There’s a lot at stake for NWSL central teams as the end of the regular season gets ever closer and the distance grows between playoff contenders and the bottom of the table.
By Bekki Morgan
The clock is beginning to tick for NWSL teams who sit outside of playoff contention or just on the edge of reaching that coveted sixth place. For teams like Racing Louisville who sit towards the bottom of the table, a win this week might be their only way to keep their dwindling postseason dreams alive. For teams like the Chicago Red Stars and Kansas City Current who sit just on the edge of remaining in contention, they need every point they can get so they don’t get overcome by the likes of Angel City or even the Orlando Pride. Even the Houston Dash who sit firmly in third place could have their fortunes changed in just a couple of games.
With everything coming down to the wire, let’s take a look at what Week 13 has to offer:
Racing Louisville Take On the Washington Spirit
It’s been a busy week for Racing with three games in a short turnaround. They play their final game of this week-long stretch when they take on the Washington Spirit in Louisville on Friday. Both teams are currently amidst long winless droughts, with the Spirit not winning a single game since their first match of the season in early May. Racing hasn’t done too much better and has now gone nine games without a win.
Even without wins, both teams have earned their fair share of draws, with Racing most recently drawing OL Reign 1–1 on Tuesday. Both teams need to earn points in order to have any shot at the playoffs, so this will be a fierce battle for both sides. If Racing is going to beat the Spirit, they need to be at their goal-scoring best. Racing has struggled to find the back of the net consistently despite creating a high number of chances. The Spirit, on the other hand, are scoring fairly consistently, but their defense is letting in too many goals.
This should be a fairly even matchup which means it’s hard to ascertain who will have the upper hand. Although Racing is on shorter rest, they’ll still be at home and have the advantage of being fired up from Tuesday’s hard-fought draw. The last time Racing Louisville played the Spirit, Racing charged back from a two-goal deficit to earn a draw. Both late goals were scored by Nadia Nadim with an assist from Jess McDonald.
In recent matches with Racing, McDonald has had a fair number of chances that have either been brilliantly saved or have been just a hair off the mark. McDonald will be key to Racing finding their attacking mojo again which makes her the player to watch for this match. She’s the league’s all-time leader in assists and has used that skill to Racing’s benefit all season. If she can repeat the performance she had the last time Racing met the Spirit or better it, Racing will be in good shape to potentially break their streak and get an allusive win. Thanks to their draw, Racing will enter Friday’s match in ninth place. A win could move them up a spot into eighth while a loss could drop them all the way to last place, so they have a lot to fight for.
Kansas City Current Head West To San Diego
Kansas City has been on an extended hot streak and shows no signs of slowing down. Although they broke their winning streak last week, their draw did move their unbeaten streak to eight games. And what a draw it was. The Current had gone down two by the opening minutes of the second half but charged back to earn a 2–2 draw by the end of the evening. This performance showed just how resilient they are as a side and just how hard they are to break down. They’ll need all the resilience they can get, though, because on Sunday, they take on the number one team in the league: The San Diego Wave.
The last time these two teams met, they drew 2–2. Considering that neither the Current nor the Wave have managed to win many games by more than one goal, it’s likely to be another very close match. Kansas City goalkeeper A.D. Franch has been almost unbeatable in goal all season and has been the key to the Current’s continued hot streak. She did have a rare mistake last Saturday, however, when she collided with teammate Elizabeth Ball and left the goal open to put Orlando up by two. She’ll need to shake off that mistake and be in her best form, because San Diego’s Alex Morgan, Sofia Jakobsson, and brand new signing Jaedyn Shaw are deadly in front of goal.
To counteract San Diego’s strong attack, Kansas City will need some goal-scoring prowess of its own. Last week, rookie Elyse Bennett made an incredible solo run up the right flank and into the penalty box to give the Current their first goal. Although she hasn’t always been a starter, she’s been a game-changing sub which makes her the player to watch for this week.
Bennett might only have four shots on target this season, but three of those turned into goals. She also has two assists on the year. She’s a quick and dynamic player who knows how to work her way through opponents to get in a deadly position. It seems likely she’ll get minutes against San Diego after her great performance last week, and once again she might just be the difference-maker the Current need to keep their streak alive.
Going into this week, the Current is firmly in 6th place. Only Angel City is within reach of knocking them into seventh place and out of playoff contention, so even if they drop, they won’t drop very far. A win, however, could move them up a spot or two in the standings. After finishing last season in last place, this is the first time the Current has ever been in playoff contention. And there’s nothing like a win against the top team in the league to show you mean business.
The Houston Dash Go to Seattle to Meet OL Reign
The Houston Dash is another team on a hot streak. Striker Ebony Salmon was just named player of the month for the league after scoring four goals in four games. The Dash have scored four goals in each of their last two matches, so they’re not an easy team to stop in front of the net. But if any team is up to it, it’s probably OL Reign.
The Reign are perpetual contenders who find themselves in the playoffs practically every season. Stars like Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle are hard to shut out, and defenders like Sofia Huerta and Alana Cook are experts at neutralizing threats. However, they’ll be returning home after a long trip first to Los Angeles and then Louisville all within a week, so they’ll be awfully tired which might give Houston the leg up they need. On the flip side, they’ll likely be furious about the draw with Racing on Tuesday. By every statistical measure, they should have won, but Racing proved too wily to count out.
The Dash have been doing some traveling of their own. They just got back from beating NJ/NY Gotham 4–2 in New Jersey and now they’re flying to the other end of the country to Seattle. While they might be tired, they’ve only lost a single away game this season. They’ve been even tougher to beat on the road than they have been at home, so despite the fact that a match with OL Reign will never be easy, a tired, depleted OL Reign might give Houston their best shot at earning their third straight win. This will be the first time all season these two teams play each other so it’s hard to gauge just how their interactions will play out, but it’s sure to be a fun, fast-paced match no matter what.
The player to watch for the Dash is Nichelle Prince. Prince is a Canadian Olympic gold medalist who has yet to return from playing with her national team in the Concacaf W tournament that ended in late July. She’ll likely be back for this match in Seattle which will give fans their first chance to see how this dynamic winger works with Ebony Salmon. If they click, they could be one of the hardest duos to stop in the NWSL. Despite missing all of July, Prince has already scored five goals this season and notched two assists. As strong as the Reign’s defense is, they’ll be hard-pressed to mark both Salmon and Prince and keep them off the scoreboard.
The Dash currently sits in third place. A win would keep them firmly ensconced in playoff contention and could possibly move them up as high as second place. A loss, however, might drop them all the way to fifth or sixth. With the second half of the season well underway, the Dash will need every point they can get to secure their first playoff spot ever.
The Chicago Red Stars Host NJ/NY Gotham
The last two matches for the Red Stars have been disappointing, to say the least. They had been on a nine-game unbeaten streak when they surprisingly fell 4–1 to the Houston Dash. Next, they lost 1–0 to the San Diego Wave despite earning a golden opportunity with a penalty they failed to convert. If Chicago is going to show that these two games were just a fluke, they need to pick up a win on Sunday.
On Sunday, they’ll be playing NJ/NY Gotham who only has one less win than the Red Stars, but also has four more losses. In other words, Gotham is a team that runs hot and cold. They can absolutely score on unsuspecting teams and shut them out if necessary. Recent acquisition Taylor Smith has been a strong addition and has notched a goal and an assist since arriving. And, of course, Midge Purce is an ever-present threat to opponents.
If Chicago can find their form again, they should be able to take Gotham on and earn a result. Chicago has been dominant for the majority of the season. Although they shouldn’t underestimate Gotham, they should be able to play them well enough to at least earn a point. And points will be increasingly important for Chicago who sit somewhat securely in fifth place for now. Kansas City and Angel City are both close to overcoming the Red Stars although it’s unlikely they could manage it this week thanks to Chicago’s positive goal differential. But if they don’t earn a win this week, they could be out of playoff contention entirely by next week.
As a result, they’ll need to rely heavily on their captain to help get them back into the right headspace to notch another win, which makes Vanessa DiBernardo the player to watch for this week. DiBernardo is one of Chicago’s steadiest players. As a midfielder, she can help determine the pace and rate of possession of the game. As captain, she also helps shape the team’s mentality. Towards the end of the San Diego match, Chicago’s players already looked beaten. None of them chased the rebound from the blocked penalty and none of them were able to get many looks on goal afterward. The Red Stars have already shown they can win if they have momentum in their favor. This week they’ll have to show how they can react when momentum moves against them.
For more info about all the upcoming NWSL matches, check out the full league schedule here on NWSLsoccer.com.