NWSL West Week 19 Update

Portland, OL, and San Diego clinched playoff positions after successful weeks, while Angel City remains on the bubble after a devastating loss to Louisville. 

By Taylor Vincent

Week 19 of NWSL play started with some midweek action as Angel City, Portland, and OL all added three points to their totals on Wednesday. Angel City beat the Washington Spirit 2–1, while Portland dominated Racing Louisville 3–0, and OL Reign was able to squeak by 1–0 against Gotham FC. 

Angel City’s Cari Roccaro battles for possession in the box. / Angel City Football Club

All of the teams in the league were on equal footing as far as games played heading into a pivotal weekend. On Saturday, the Reign were to beat the Dash 2–0 in Houston, giving them the temporary top of the table. Sunday’s action started off strong as Portland beat Chicago 3–0, but got worse as the day went on as San Diego came back down by two to tie Orlando 2–2, and then in the last match of the day Angel City lost to Louisville 3–1. Here’s where all the teams stand heading into the final weekend of regular season play. 

OL in the battle for the Shield

The Reign were able to punch their ticket to the playoffs and move from fourth in the table to second with their two wins on the road this week. In a divergence from the possession-dominating style fans have come to expect from the Reign, OL didn’t hold possession or rack up the shots in their games, but showed a surgical precision on the shots they did take which has been missing at times through this season. The Reign held the top of the table on Saturday evening for the first time all season, but were dethroned by Portland on Sunday. 

Veronica Latsko celebrates her goal after Rose Lavelle’s shot went off the far post. / OL Reign (Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

Regardless, the Reign have now clinched a coveted playoff position heading into the final weekend where they will take on Orlando on Saturday, October 1. Although they will have to await the outcome of Portland’s game to see if a win this weekend will give them the Shield, the win would definitely give the Reign one of the top two spots and a bye until the semifinals. The last time the Reign played Orlando was just a month ago when they came back from 1–nil down to win the match. The match will also mark former OL forward Ally Watt’s return to Seattle. Watt was traded to Orlando just six weeks ago.

Portland atop the table

With not one, but two 3–0 wins this past week, Portland is peaking at the right time this season and should hope to keep the momentum heading into the final weekend and playoffs. What is a bit worrisome for the Thorns is that midfielder Sam Coffey went straight back into the locker room to get checked out after being subbed off late in the Sunday matchup. She came back out with a bag of ice for her left leg. One bit of good news there was her replacement, Taylor Porter, had an absolute banger of a goal in her absence. The other worrisome question for Portland is whether star forward Sophia Smith will be available to play against Gotham on Saturday. Smith got her legs taken out by Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher in the late stoppage time. It surely would’ve been a PK if Smith hadn’t been ruled offsides, but the match ended with Smith still down and getting checked out for a concussion. 

Crystal Dunn returned to Providence Park this week for the first time since giving birth in May. / Taylor Vincent

Portland must win this weekend at Gotham in order to win the Shield and get that extra week of rest in the playoffs. Otherwise, a draw could keep them top 2 if either the Reign lose or Kansas City ties or loses. The last time Portland and Gotham met was during the international break in July and the Thorns won 5–0. Since then Gotham has had a coaching change and has been looking better each game. 

Angel City flounders but still has hope

The Angel City midweek win threw a lot of possibilities for playoffs out the window, but most importantly, it gave ACFC hope toward making the cut. Unfortunately, they also needed the weekend win against Racing Louisville in order to get back above the playoff line. Now Angel City’s fate is in the hands of San Diego. They need their rivals from down South to beat North Carolina on Friday in order to give them even a chance at the playoffs. 

Lucky for Angel City, their final game of the season is against the Chicago Red Stars, who didn’t just lose against Portland this past weekend, but completely hit the self-destruct button. Defender Bianca St. Georges was given a red card for giving the line judge the double-birds in the 59th minute, and then defender Zoe Morse, who has played every single minute for the Red Stars so far this season, was given a second yellow card in the first minute of stoppage. This means that Chicago will be without two of its key defenders as they head into the Saturday matchup. 

San Diego, the first expansion team to clinch a playoff spot

The Wave were the only NWSL West team to not have a midweek game this past week. However, they didn’t seem to take full advantage of that extra preparation time. Orlando came out punching and the Wave found themselves down 2–0 with only 20 minutes left in regulation. Lucky for the Wave, their game changers—what they call substitutes—truly lived up to their name and the Wave were able to come back and tie the match in the 86th minute. Unfortunately, the match wasn’t great for the injury report. Alex Morgan was listed as questionable and was on the bench but didn’t dress. Starting centerback Abby Dahlkemper went down in the first half and needed to be subbed out; head coach Casey Stoney thought it might be more serious. And in the final minutes midfielder Taylor Kornieck, who scored the equalizer, went down with a rolled ankle and appeared to be in quite a lot of pain. 

Makenzy Doniak finds some space out wide. / San Diego Wave FC

With the draw, however, San Diego was able to become the first expansion team to ever clinch a playoff spot in their inaugural season. Both the players and the coach in the postgame seemed more upset with how the Wave looked in the match than excited for the historic moment. Heading into the final weekend, the Wave sit comfortably at fourth in the table and will host a dangerous North Carolina Courage on Friday, September 30 at Snapdragon Stadium. In order to end up top two in the table and get that much-desired bye, both OL and Kansas City would need to lose paired with a Wave win. 

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