After a week off for international play, the NWSL is back for Week 16 as teams enter their final full month of the 2022 season.
By Bekki Morgan
The time left in the 2022 season is ticking away as teams make their final bids for the playoffs. Three NWSL Central teams are in an excellent position to reach the postseason. The NWSL West currently holds the other three playoff spots, meaning the East has been wholly iced out with time running thin.
Of the three teams in playoff contention, the Houston Dash and Kansas City Current are in the best shape as they enter a new week in second and third place respectively. A big win for Chicago against Louisville has them hanging onto sixth place, but Angel City is breathing down their necks in a bid to overtake it.
Meanwhile, Racing Louisville is continuing to struggle to find its footing. They’ve managed to hang onto 10th place for another week, but if they don’t start getting points soon, they could easily drop to the bottom.
Mal Pugh’s Monster Night Leads to Chicago Routing Louisville
Two goals and two assists for Mal Pugh led to the Chicago Red Stars flattening Racing Louisville 4–0 last week. After going through a bit of a rough patch, Chicago will be hoping this isn’t a fluke and is a sign the team is once again returning to form. Racing, on the other hand, will be praying that this was a fluke and they can get back to at least holding their own more if not outright winning.
Both Chicago and Louisville have been interesting teams to watch this season. Racing has only had two wins but has had eight draws and only been beaten by more than a single point twice all season. Unfortunately, this match against Chicago was one of them. The best Racing can hope for this season is to pull back a few more points and get as close to the middle of the pack as they can manage. Then maybe they’ll be in better shape for a fresh start in the next season.
Chicago, on the other hand, started out on a hot streak but has had its share of stumbles since July. Most noticeably, Mal Pugh has been cold. If her red-hot form against Racing is an indication that she’s back then Chicago has a solid chance at holding onto that final playoff spot and maybe even climbing another space or two—which they may do as soon as this weekend.
Chicago will be facing OL Reign next in what is sure to be a fascinating match. Both teams have almost identical records with seven wins apiece. OL Reign also sits just one spot ahead of Chicago in the standings with only a single point between them. It’ll be a tough match, but a win might be what it takes for them to hold onto their playoff berth with Angel City so close behind.
Next up, Racing will face the North Carolina Courage. The Courage is, unfortunately, on something of a hot streak and the only other team to give Racing a truly bad loss in 2022. How Racing reacts to such a demotivating win will be telling. A win or a draw might be necessary to keep them in 10th place with ninth place too far away for even a win to catch. Still, after last week’s performance, they don’t necessarily even have to win at this point. Just earning a close match against an opponent that beat them soundly earlier in the year would be enough to show they have some fight left in them.
The Dash Eke Out a Draw in Stoppage Time Against the Spirit
The Washington Spirit are having a tough season with only a single win to their name in 2022, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t give the Houston Dash a run for their money last week. After Sophie Schmidt got the Dash on the board early, the Spirit responded with two goals by Ashley Hatch in just two minutes, making it look like they’d finally earned the win they’d been longing for. Michelle Alozie had other ideas, though, and pulled back a point for Houston with a late equalizer in the first minute of stoppage time.
Houston has remained dominant enough to stay in second place in the league, but they’ve shown a few cracks lately. They drew Racing 0–0 a few weeks ago despite the fact that Racing played over half the match down a player. Then they earned a close win against Gotham only to fall 3–1 in a bruising match against San Diego. Another draw last week against another bottom team isn’t really a dominant return to form. Still, Houston is managing to pull back points when they need them which might be all they need to stay on top. As excellent as Ebony Salmon has been, it’s also good to see other players start to score more for Houston. This is a team with a large number of offensive threats and they should be using them.
Next up, the Dash play Angel City who is only a point away from earning a playoff berth. Angel City has had some bad luck with injuries, but they’ve been feisty and hard to beat. Although the Dash has a good chance at beating them, they’ll have to put in a more decisive performance than the ones they’ve put in for recent matches. As comfortable as they might feel in second place, a loss could see them drop all the way down to fifth. With the top teams so close together, every single point matters as the season begins to wind to a close.
Kansas City Extends Unbeaten Streak to 12 Games With Win Over the Courage
The story of the 2022 season is arguably the Kansas City Current and their dominant performance. Their win over the Courage put them on a league-leading 12-game unbeaten streak. This is even more monumental when you realize that this was last year’s last-place team. Also, they’ve barely played their two big superstar acquisitions Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams due to season-ending injuries. Instead, it’s been players like Lo’eau LaBonta and smart acquisitions like Cece Kizer that have helped them reach new heights.
The match against the Courage really demonstrated the tenacity of the Current. Despite scoring first, they went down thanks to two excellent goals by North Carolina’s Kerolin. Less than 10 minutes after Kerolin’s second goal, Kansas City turned it around and scored the equalizer and go-ahead goal just a few minutes apart.
It’s hard to imagine any team stopping the Current at this point, and if both San Diego and Houston lose and Kansas City earns a win, they could even shoot straight up to the top of the standings. Up next, the Current will play Gotham who they should have little trouble beating or, at a minimum, drawing. Gotham sits last in the standings and is still recovering from the firing of their coach several weeks ago. Although they’ve shown signs of improvement, they’re still a long shot in earning points this week so the Current should be well on their way to improving their unbeaten streak to 13.
Week 16 Scoresheet
August 27th, Racing Louisville vs.Chicago Red Stars – Official Recap
3’ Mallory Pugh, assisted by Bianca St-Georges (1–0 CHI)
18’ Yuki Nagasato, assisted by Mallory Pugh (2–0 CHI)
23’ Yuki Nagasato, assisted by Mallory Pugh (3–0 CHI)
73’ Mallory Pugh, assisted by Yuki Nagasato (4–0 CHI)
August 27th, Houston Dash vs.Washington Spirit – Official Recap
22’ Sophie Schmidt (1–0 HOU)
53’ Ashley Hatch, assisted by Trinity Rodman (1–1)
55’ Ashley Hatch, assisted by Ashley Sanchez (2–1 WAS)
90’+1’ Michelle Alozie (2–2)
August 28th, Kansas City Current vs.North Carolina Courage – Official Recap
5’ Lo’eau LaBonta (1–0 KCC)
28’ Kerolin, assisted by Merritt Mathias (1–1)
48’ Kerolin, assisted by Kaleigh Kurtz (2–1 NCC)
56’ Cece Kizer, assisted by Alexis Loera (2–2)
59’ Kristen Hamilton, assisted by Kate Del Fava (3–2 KCC)