Very little was settled heading into the NWSL’s final weekend, meaning every game — and every goal — impacted something. Only four teams had clinched a playoff spot, and the NWSL Shield could have realistically gone to three teams.
Some clubs responded to this pressure better than others as they all met for one last weekend of NWSL regular season action.
On paper this match seemed to be simple math. The team at the top of the table (at the time) against the team at the bottom (then, and still now); the team with the most goals scored versus the team among the most conceded, and fewest scored. Oh, and also there’s the whole tiny matter of the Thorns being able to crown themselves 2022 NWSL Shield winners with a win.
Then the game happened.
Gotham FC’s Naho Kawasumi scored in the 39th minute. Portland scored twice before halftime to make it 2-1 and seemingly set things right, and tacked on a third early in the second half. But Gotham refused to play their role and responded. They scored two unanswered to force Portland to settle for a 3-3 draw.
Teams with nothing to play for either wilt or galvanize into something suddenly more formidable. Gotham chose the latter. As for Portland, it’s difficult to tell what this surprise result means. On one hand it’s a tough away day requiring 2,885 miles of travel to face a team overflowing with desperation, on the other that was Gotham’s lone draw of the season to go along with 17 losses and just four wins.
However, the truth of this match leans closer to ‘soccer gonna soccer sometimes.’ According to American Soccer Analysis, Portland dominated the expected goals (xG) battle, 3.37 to .92.
Quick translation, they probably could have scored more but did enough at both ends to look the clear winner on paper.
Though they missed out on the Shield (rivals OL Reign capitalized to lift their first NWSL Shield since 2015), Portland’s second place finish ensures they won’t have to go on the road unless it’s to play the Championship game in Washington, DC. And losing the Shield in the manner in which they did provides lots of coaching fodder to steel the team for the must-win games to come.
Verdict: Ain’t worried
Kansas City has become one of the most solid, and fun, teams in the league. Their application of new coach Matt Potter’s system saw them go on a 13-game unbeaten tear that included nine wins. In mid-September, the Red Stars broke that streak in a rather humiliating fashion, beating them 4-0, but Kansas City bounced back to draw a dominant Portland side away and defeat the Washington Spirit 3-0.
The result was the Current shooting up the table and looking to be in perfect position to nab one of the top four spots to host a playoff game. All they had to do on the final day was defeat Racing Louisville, who had lost three of its last five and whose last win over a playoff team was in May.
Kansas City struggled to generate clear cut chances all night and Louisville goalkeeper Katie Lund continued her remarkable form by keeping out the rest of their efforts. In the 92nd minute, Jessica McDonald scored to give Louisville the lead and just their fifth win all season.
As seen with Portland, it can be difficult to match the intensity of nothing-to-lose desperation. However, unlike Portland, Kansas City didn’t score a goal. They also suffered a loss that will carry over into the playoffs, as stalwart defensive midfielder Desiree Scott saw red after two yellow cards and will be suspended as they go on the road to face Houston.
Verdict: ngl kinda shook
Last season, Houston Dash needed a result against the Spirit in order to make the playoffs. Their plan was going well until they were beaten by a 76th-minute Trinity Rodman goal. This time, a result the day before clinched the playoffs for Houston, but there was still revenge and a potential home playoff game to play for.
Houston scored first against the run of play, then Andi Sullivan tied the game 1-1 after scoring a penalty won by their nemesis, Rodman. The match would remain tense and Houston would hit the posts and crossbar multiple times, but it wasn’t until a calamitous own goal scored by Washington that Houston regained their lead.
In the end it was a 2-1 win for Houston, job done, revenge attained, and home playoff game secured. But Washington put them under a lot of pressure, and the fluky inadvertent backheeled own goal was more indicative of Washington’s no good very bad season than Houston’s ability to fight back and claim a lead.
Verdict: One (1) yike