With a full slate of critical matchups, NWSL Central teams’ postseason fates may be decided this coming week.
By Bekki Morgan
It was a mixed bag of results for NWSL Central teams last week with the Kansas City Current shooting to the top of the standings and Racing Louisville very nearly dropping to the bottom. Meanwhile, the Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars held onto their playoff berths with crucial draws. But with crucial, make-or-break matches coming up this week between multiple central teams, anything could happen as clubs have the chance to either solidify their places in the standings or drop out of contention.
Chicago Eke Out a Draw Against OL Reign But Face Crucial Test Against Kansas City
The Chicago Red Stars faced a tough challenge against OL Reign last Friday. Both teams have been hovering at the edge of playoff eligibility, so gaining points in this match was important to keep playoff hopes alive. OL Reign got on the board early, but Chicago came back and seemed poised to win after scoring in first half stoppage time and again midway through the second half. A late goal by Rose Lavelle ultimately pulled OL Reign level, however, and the teams split points in a 2–2 draw.
Going into this match, Chicago was likely hopeful to move out of sixth place and earn some ground in the standings. The single point earned here did keep them just out of reach of Angel City in seventh place, but it leaves them in a precarious place going into both of this week’s matches.
On Wednesday, Chicago faces the current number one team in the league, the Kansas City Current, who are on a league-leading unbeaten streak. This will be a tough match for Chicago, who have been hot and cold since July. They’ve been able to hang onto a playoff spot all through the season, but coming up against a red hot Kansas City might be what finally dislodges them. Especially because on Saturday, they go up against the fourth-place Houston Dash. Houston’s own hot streak has cooled a bit, but they’re still earning vital points through draws when they need them, so this will be another tough match for the Red Stars.
No matter what, Chicago will have to win some points this week if they’re going to stay in the playoffs. Ideally, they’ll get at least one win, but if they don’t, they have to at least get two draws to try and stay ahead of Los Angeles, who are only one point behind. With two tough games in close succession coming up in just one week, Chicago will need to show some grit to prove they have what it takes to make the postseason.
Racing Louisville Need to Correct Their Course or Risk Dropping Into Last
Racing Louisville faced another disastrous result on Saturday in their 5–1 loss to the North Carolina Courage. This is their second consecutive loss by four goals, which is catastrophic for a team that’s barely lost by more than a single goal all season. Racing might not have been winning, but they were hard to beat. Now, they’re at risk of falling to the very bottom of the table.
This week, Racing returns home to take on the Orlando Pride, who they drew earlier in the season. The Pride have been on something of an upswing lately, but they’re probably the best chance Racing has to gain points before the end of the season. With matches against Portland, Los Angeles, and Kansas City rounding out their season, they’re going to need to earn points against the Pride if they’re going to stop their tumble.
Even if they don’t earn points, though, it’s vital that Racing at least shows up and returns to competitive form. If they can hold the Pride to a close game and show some signs of improvement in their cohesion and chemistry, that might still be counted as something of a win as the team looks to course correct before next season. Right now, the only thing keeping them out of dead last is NJ/NY Gotham’s poor form. If they have any motivation left for their final four games, it might be disrupting other teams’ playoff chances and staying out of last place.
Kansas City Current Keep Streak Alive Heading Into A Tough Week of Matchups
The Kansas City Current continue to be the story of the season as last year’s last-place team have now finally risen into first place in the standings. Their unbeaten streak of 13 games has blown every other team out of the water. Although they had a closer than expected match against last-place NJ/NY Gotham on Sunday evening, they were still able to rally and win with a 78th minute goal by Hailie Mace as the difference-maker.
This week, however, Kansas City will be facing much tougher competition. First, they’ll be up against a Chicago Red Stars team looking to hold onto a playoff spot. Second, they’ll be up against the perennially dominant Portland Thorns on Sunday for their second game in five days. While the Current’s place in the playoffs is as good as set in stone, they’ll need to earn some points this week if they’re going to stay in the number one spot. Portland and San Diego sit only a single point behind them in the standings and Houston only two points behind. While even a single win might solidify their first place spot, two losses could drop them all the way to fourth or fifth.
With the clip the Current have been playing at, however, it’s hard to imagine anyone beating them outright, although Portland might have as good a chance as anyone. Chicago can be scrappy, however, and have more to fight for, so the Current will need to be at their best if they want to keep their streak alive.
Houston Looks to Keep Historic Playoff Run Alive
Despite winning the inaugural Challenge Cup in 2020, the Houston Dash have never made the playoffs. That looks ready to change in 2022 as they currently sit in fourth place a safe three points above the sixth and last spot. Although they haven’t been as unbeatable as they were around midseason, they’re still earning vital points when they need to. Case in point, last Sunday’s draw with Angel City. They didn’t get the full three points, but they got a point that keeps them likely safe within the playoffs for at least another week.
As great as Maria Sánchez’s goal was, however, Houston gave up the equalizer just seven minutes later. This is their third draw in five games that also featured one win and one loss. These draws are crucial and important points, but Houston is going to have to start earning some wins if they’re going to keep pace with the top teams in the league. Teams have learned how to contain Ebony Salmon and effectively cut her off from the rest of their team. While Houston has Nichelle Prince, Sánchez, and others to lean on, Salmon has been their most consistent goal scorer and they’ll need her in top form to retain ground.
This week, Houston will take on the Chicago Red Stars. Both teams need points to stay safely in postseason position, but Chicago needs the points more. Will they come out even stronger and potentially take all three points? That might depend on how tired or invigorated they are after their mid-week match against Kansas City. Houston will have the rest, but Chicago will have the home-field advantage so it’s hard to guess who might come out on top.
Week 17 Scoresheet
September 9th, OL Reign vs. Chicago Red Stars – Official Recap
18’ Jordyn Huitema (1–0 OLR)
45’+2’ Ella Stevens (1–1)
68’ Danielle Colaprico (2–1 CHI)
80’ Rose Lavelle, assisted by Megan Rapinoe (2–2)
September 10th, North Carolina Courage vs. Racing Louisville – Official Recap
9’ Kerolin, assisted by Denise O’Sullivan (1–0 NCC)
42’ Kerolin (2–0 NCC)
56’ Debinha, assisted by Kerolin (3–0 NCC)
72’ Nadia Nadim (3–1 NCC)
84’ Debhina, penalty (4–1 NCC)
90’ Theresa Boade, assisted by Kerolin (5–1 NCC)
September 11th, NJ/NY Gotham vs. Kansas City Current – Official Recap
78’ Hailie Mace (1–0 KCC)
September 11th, Houston Dash vs. Angel City FC – Official Recap
43’ Maria Sánchez, assisted by Natalie Jacobs (1–0 HOU)
49’ Simone Charley (1–1)