For… reasons, just two of the 12 NWSL teams have yet to reach the halfway point in their schedule, but that’s good enough to take a look at how the playoff picture is shaping up.
In the NWSL, there are six playoff spots, and the top two positions on the table earn a first week bye and are guaranteed to host a semifinal.
To make this easy I’m splitting teams into three categories: c u soon (playoff locks), *larry david face* (ehhhh), and WELP (better luck next year).
The Thorns have lost just one game and only allowed 10 goals all season. Though not perfect, they have more draws (six) than wins (five). They are extremely difficult to beat, and that sorta thing comes in handy in the playoffs.
San Diego Wave
So uh, Casey Stoney is an extraordinarily good coach. She built Manchester United from scratch and has done the same with San Diego. They have talent, but it’s how they’re already imprinted with a style and fearlessness that stands out most.
Reign have the lowest point total of the teams I’m considering to be locks, but they’re loaded with incoming talent, some of which have yet to play (Jordyn Huitema). They’re very good, and are a whisker from full on dangerous.
Chicago Red Stars
The Red Stars have been a pleasant surprise, and, like San Diego, have a set identity that’s difficult to cope with. Injuries could play a role, but they are also expected to get players back for the stretch run.
Kansas City Current
Injuries have kept the Current from fully realizing the impact of their successful recruitment. Lynn Williams played in one Challenge Cup match before being ruled out for the rest of the season with a severe hamstring injury. However, USWNT midfielder Sam Mewis might be making her return to the pitch. She’s been traveling with the team and is hopefully recovered enough to start logging minutes soon.
Kansas City deserves credit for adjusting their style of play and learning how to play without the ball. However, the eventual inclusion of Sam Mewis will help them be able to get on the front foot more often. With Kristen Hamilton, CeCe Kizer and Elyse Bennett, they have the talent to score on anyone, but injury and injury recovery is never a straight line. If KC gets some good luck to counter the bad of the previous season, they have a good chance at not just making the playoffs, but finding themselves in a semifinal.
The whole “building the plane while flying” metaphor has never been more true than with this season’s Houston Dash. They’ve added a significant piece to an already attack-heavy roster while also rebuilding their coaching staff.
Boding well for the Dash is that Juan Carlos Amorós’ first match in charge was an Ebony Salmon hat trick, suggesting he already knows what to do with her talent. Eventually, internationals like Rachel Daly and Michaela Abam will return, and the electric Maria Sánchez must continue to be allowed to shine. For the Dash, it’s everything behind their dominant attack. They’ve allowed 11 goals in their last five games. If they can find a formula to limit opposition chances, their attack can win them games.
The acquisition of Sydney Leroux kept the energy from fully deflating after Christen Press’ torn ACL. In fact, in her first start she helped the team put together an intense performance as they beat California rivals and league leaders, San Diego Wave.
The biggest concern for Angel City is that head coach Freya Coombe keeps a tight XI and is often hesitant to substitute, particularly early. This is compounded by the exhausting nature of the style she wants the team to play. Whether through injury, exhaustion, or strategic rest to keep top players fresh, Coombe will need to rely on a broader use of her roster to see out games. The concern is that those players don’t have the on-pitch experience they need as the team enters the downward rollercoaster phase of the season.
North Carolina Courage
Multiple things are true about the North Carolina Courage. Yes, they currently sit at the bottom of the table. Yes, due to COVID-19 postponements they’ve played the fewest games of every team in the league (just nine). And also, yes, their defense is still prone to random short-term glitches.
A month ago, Houston scored three goals in four minutes en route to a 4-3 win and a week and a half ago, Chicago scored twice in second half stoppage time to earn a 2-2 draw. Games in hand are only meaningful if they deliver points, and while Debinha and Kerolin are returning from international duty with Brazil, it’s the defense that must remain composed whistle to whistle. Also of concern for the Courage is the scheduling of their four games in hand. They’re going to have to cope with the flurry of a playoff push and a taste of the Hell Schedule that wrecked the Washington Spirit’s season.
Total number of games, injuries and a hellacious schedule have last year’s champions second bottom on the table with 13 games played. They haven’t won a match since May 1, and have drawn a league high seven matches. They’re still ultra talented, but this is not a league in which making up points is a thing, as evidenced by their recent 0-0 draw with Orlando Pride.
In an alternate universe there’s a Racing Louisville flying up the table with Jess McDonald linking with dynamic rookie Savannah Demelo and 21-year-old Ebony Salmon. It’s deeply unfortunate that universe is not this one.
While Pride players are putting in efforts worthy of the moniker (with a special shoutout to Darian Jenkins who went from collaborative piece to centerpiece), there’s too much to overcome given the teams they’d need to beat to get in.
All of the yikes. Gotham is a talented team, but they haven’t looked like a cohesive unit all season. Their attack is wonky and inconsistent, their midfield is leaky and lacks control, and their defense and goalkeeper often struggle to get on the same page.