NWSL teams continue to jockey for a coveted playoff spot while the end of the regular season ticks ever closer.
By Bekki Morgan
It’s come down to the final third of the NWSL season and three out of four NWSL Central teams find themselves in good shape to reach the playoffs. The Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, and Kansas City Current all currently hold a top six position which is needed to earn a post-season berth. With the season starting to wind down, though, they’ll need to keep earning points if they’re going to keep their playoff dreams alive.
Racing Louisville’s Playoff Dreams Are Getting Harder to Achieve
Despite being competitive in almost every match they’ve played, Racing Louisville just can’t earn a win. On Friday, they continued this trajectory with an evenly fought match against the Washington Spirit that ended in a 1–1 draw. Racing started out on the front foot and even got on the board first with a goal from Nadia Nadim in the 52nd minute. However, only 12 minutes later, Washington’s Ashley Hatch found the equalizer. As a result, Racing is now on a 10-game winless streak.
As the only NWSL Central team not in playoff contention, it’s hard to see how Racing could possibly make the playoffs at this point. They enter the new week in ninth place with only seven games left in the season. They would likely need to win all of them to make it into the top six in the league. For now, it’s more realistic to assume that Racing will be fighting for a mid-table position, which is perfectly respectable for a young team with a new coach undergoing a rebuild. If they can earn a few more wins before the season ends, they’ll at least show they’re heading in the right direction.
The next chance they’ll get at three points will be a challenging one when they head down to Houston to take on the red hot Dash. Racing will be going into this match bolstered with the newly arrived talents of Wang Shuang, a Chinese National Team star forward who is playing in the NWSL for the first time. One of Racing’s biggest issues has been finishing their chances, so maybe the dynamic Wang can help bring some firepower in from the wings.
If Racing wins this match, it’ll likely move them safely into 8th place. A loss could potentially drop them into second-to-last place, however, so they have a lot to fight for beyond just the playoffs. The fact the Washington Spirit lost to the Portland Thorns this Wednesday is the only thing keeping them from possibly falling into last place this week.
Salmon Gets a Chance for Revenge Against Racing Louisville on Friday
As mentioned above, the Houston Dash is red hot right now and much of that credit goes to Ebony Salmon. The striker has scored six goals in five games since joining the Dash just before midseason. What makes the upcoming match extra spicy is the fact that Salmon came to the Dash from Racing Louisville, Houston’s opponents on Friday. At the time of the trade, Salmon made it clear she was not happy with the lack of minutes she was getting in Louisville and was going to Houston out to prove what she could do. And she’s certainly done just that. She was named July’s Player of the Month and has been on a goal-scoring tear.
Last week, Houston traveled to Seattle to beat OL Reign 2–1 in a match where Salmon scored two goals only two minutes apart. This win was the Dash’s seventh of the season. Even though they currently sit in third place before this week’s game, they have tied the top two teams—the Portland Thorns and San Diego Wave—in wins despite playing one less game. Now, as they head back home to take on Louisville in Houston, they could end the week with the most wins of any team in the league.
The Dash is already on a hot streak and the home field advantage is likely to fire them up even more as Salmon looks to seek revenge against the coach she feels wronged her. Racing will certainly put up a fight in this match, but it’s hard to see how the Dash doesn’t have the upper hand. They found their groove during the international break in July and they haven’t lost any momentum since it ended.
Speaking of the international break, it was announced that the Dash’s biggest star in franchise history, Rachel Daly, will not be returning to the team. Daly, who just finished helping England’s Lionesses win the UEFA Euros this July, has decided to stay home and play for Aston Villa. Although it will be hard for some fans to imagine a Houston team without Daly, Salmon has certainly helped ease the process and may just help the Dash reach heights they’ve never yet obtained.
Despite joining the NWSL in 2014, the Dash has never made the playoffs. They’re currently sitting comfortably in third place and increasingly seem like a shoo-in for the off-season. A win will likely keep them firmly in place or possibly move them up to second place. A loss, however, might knock them all the way down to fifth or sixth. The Kansas City Current and the Chicago Red Stars are nipping at the Dash’s heels, as are OL Reign. So even with their excellent positioning, Houston shouldn’t get too comfortable because a lot can change in just a few weeks. Still, they’re on a tear and their new young talent is now officially leading them into the future. And from all angles, it certainly seems like their future is going to be bright.
The Kansas City Current Look to Hold Onto Playoff Claim
Another team whose future seems bright is the Kansas City Current. After ending the 2021 season in last place, they’re currently in fifth place and riding the high of a nine-game unbeaten streak. Last week, they showed their strength when they took on the San Diego Wave and won 2–1. Although the Wave has now fallen to second place, they have held the top spot for the majority of the season, so a win against them is yet another sign that Kansas City is peaking at the right time.
This week, the Current are traveling to North Carolina to take on the Courage. Although the Courage has languished in last place most of the season, they’re no pushovers. They tend to score goals even in games they lose so Current goalkeeper A.D. Franch will have to continue her standout streak to keep Kansas City on top. Considering the Current are traveling all the way from San Diego to North Carolina in the span of a week, fatigue might be an issue for them. Still, considering how fired up they are about their current streak, they should be more than capable of taking the fight to the Courage. And if Cece Kizer can keep up her goal-scoring streak, they’ll be in good shape.
Should the Current lose, however, the farthest they could fall this week is to sixth place. So they’ll still be in a playoff spot no matter the outcome. OL Reign could surpass them with a win, but seventh place Angel City would still be one point short of breaking even if they capture all three points. A win, however, might shoot them up to third, although that would be relying on both the Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars losing. As mentioned, the Dash has a very good shot at earning all three points this week. Chicago, however, might be a little more vulnerable.
Chicago Red Stars Angel City
Early in the season, the Chicago Red Stars were the team on a hot streak. They were on a nine-game unbeaten streak before getting soundly defeated by the Houston Dash in mid-July. They were then beaten 1–0 in a frustrating match against San Diego the week after. Although they were able to rally and earn a solid 2–0 win against Gotham in their most recent game, the Red Stars haven’t been looking like the fully dominant team they had been. In particular, Mal Pugh hasn’t been quite as on fire since the international break.
It’ll take this week’s match against Angel City in Los Angeles to show if the Red Stars’ stumbles are fully behind them. Angel City have had struggles of their own after dropping a two-goal lead to OL Reign in a 3–2 loss a couple of weeks ago and then dropping a lead to Orlando thanks to an own goal that ended in a 2–2 draw. So there will be little doubt that both teams will be eager to prove they’re better than recent results have shown.
Ultimately, the Red Stars should have the upper hand in this match. Unlike Angel City, they are at least buoyed by their win against Gotham. Although Mal Pugh didn’t score in this game, she did assist rookie standout Ava Cook. So if she can get her touch back in front of goal, Chicago should be in good shape to correct their trajectory as the season winds down.
The Red Stars currently sit in fourth place with the Kansas City Current only a point behind them. A loss could drop them down to sixth place, but not out of playoff contention. A win might move them up a couple of places but would mostly keep them comfortably in an off-season berth. The Red Stars’ upcoming schedule does include a lot of travel, however. After Los Angeles, they head to North Carolina, then Louisville, then Seattle. Those road trips can take a toll so they’ll definitely be aiming to get the points they can while they can.
Week 13 Scoresheet
August 5th – Racing Louisville vs. OL Reign – Official Recap
2’ Jess Fishlock, assisted by Megan Rapinoe (1–0 OL)
45+1’ Kirsten Davis (1–1)
August 7th – San Diego Wave vs. Kansas City Courage – Official Recap
27’ Cece Kizer, assisted by Kristen Hamilton (1–0 KCFC)
39’ Hailie Mace (2–0 KCFC)
88’ Amirah Ali, assisted by Makenzy Doniak (2–1 KCFC)
August 7th – OL Reign vs. Houston Dash – Official Recap
16’ Megan Rapinoe, assisted by Kim Little (1–0 OL)
53’ Ebony Salmon, penalty (1–1)
55’ Ebony Salmon, assisted by Shea Groom (2–1 HOU)
August 7th – Chicago Red Stars vs. NJ/NY Gotham FC – Official Recap
45’+5’ Tatumn Milazzo, assisted by Danielle Colaprico (1–0 CHI)
66’ Ava Cook, assisted by Mallory Pugh (2–0 CHI)