After a tumultuous season, six teams get to battle it out for the Championship.
Down to the Wire
The final days of the regular 2021-2022 NWSL season were fairly relaxing for two teams. The Portland Thorns secured a playoffs spot and locked up the Shield a week ago thanks to a 1–0 win over the Dash. Although their place at the top of the table wasn’t always assured, they never truly looked like they were in danger of missing out on a shot at the Championship, thanks largely to SPOTY winner Angela Salem’s defensive heroics.
In addition to the Thorns, the Reign didn’t have much to worry about last Sunday. Sure, they had to win their match against Kansas City in order to guarantee a bye to the playoff semis, but winning a game becomes easier when you have the absolute cheat code that is Eugénie Le Sommer. Overall, both of these teams had pretty much completed the job, so all that was left to do was mentally and physically prepare for the playoff games ahead.
🏆 The Road to the ‘Ville starts Sunday 🏆 pic.twitter.com/9qPbpGBE9E— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) November 2, 2021
As for the five other teams in contention? Last weekend was anything but relaxing.
The Chicago Red Stars ensured qualification by beating the Pride 1–0, leaving only two playoff spots left. The Courage and Gotham FC both drew their games, meaning that they had to forget about outrunning the bear and hope for a Dash loss the next day. As a result, Houston held all of the cards, and simply had to draw or win their match in order to oust the Courage. So what did they do with that advantage? They…lost to the third-place Washington Spirit despite dominating most of the match, allowing the Courage and Gotham to bump them down to seventh in the league. In other words, they bottled it.
Now, all four teams (excluding the Dash, of course) have the chance to end their tumultuous seasons on a high note by battling it out in the quarterfinals this Sunday.
Farewell to a Unique Legend
Carli Lloyd’s impending retirement has justifiably dominated the headlines, especially since winning the Championship would be the perfect ending to her incredible career. However, an aspect of her stint with Gotham that hasn’t been touched upon much was the insane amount of loyalty she had to the club.
Absolutely no one would have blamed her if she decided to jump ship after their horrifyingly bad 2018 season, not to mention their lack of running water and housing accommodations (seriously, how was this allowed to happen). But through it all, she continued to put in the work for the club, and now she’s finally starting to reap the benefits. It’s also worth mentioning that she managed to become one of the best players of all time despite only playing for a “big” and historically successful team on the national level, a feat that’s rather Pele-esque in retrospect.
It’s Just A Game
In regards to events that have taken place off the pitch, it must be said that the players’ push for change in the league has been nothing short of extraordinary. Imagine a world where players such as Mana Shim and Sinead Farelly didn’t speak up about the Paul Rileys of the world. A world where Lisa Baird was allowed to keep her job and get away with turning a blind eye to systemic abuse. A world where witnesses of this abuse gave up on trying to change the system and instead tried to “buy into it.” It certainly sounds like what ended up killing the WPS.
Ironically, the bravery of the players to rip into the NWSL for its failures might be what ends up fixing the league (and preventing another generation of athletes from suffering in the same ways). That’s far more important than anything that happens on the field. As exciting as the playoffs will be, they’re just 90-minute, two half games no matter what the results are. At the end of the day, the true winners of the league will always and forever be the players who took it to task.