NWSL Semifinals Update

Portland clinched a spot in the finals with a stoppage-time goal against San Diego while OL fell to Kansas City in front of a record crowd for Lumen.

By Taylor Vincent

A record attendance at Lumen Field for the Reign’s playoff match. / OL Reign

After a set of thrilling quarterfinals, the two semifinals took second and third in the table of record playoff match attendances. This included the Reign setting their fourth standalone attendance record in Lumen Stadium this season. The playoff action kicked off Sunday afternoon as San Diego traveled north to Providence Park to take on the Thorns, but fell 2–1 after taking an early lead. The Reign looked to break the curse of the NWSL Shield but lost to Kansas City 2–0 after the Current scored twice against the run of play.

The Portland Thorns will take on the Kansas City Current in the 2022 NWSL Championship on Saturday, October 29 at 8pm ET on CBS. 

On Tuesday the NWSL announced the NWSL Best XI first and second teams based on a weighted voting scale: players (50%), owners/GMs/coaches (20%), media (20%), and fans (10%).

2022 NWSL Best XI First Team

Goalkeeper: Kailen Sheridan (SD)

Defenders: Alana Cook (RGN), Naomi Girma (SD), Sofia Huerta (RGN), Carson Pickett (NC)

Midfielders and Forwards: Sam Coffey (POR), Lo’eau LaBonta (KC), Alex Morgan (SD), Debinha (NC), Mallory Pugh (CHI), Sophia Smith (POR)

2022 NWSL Best XI Second Team

Goalkeeper: Adrianna Franch (KC)

Defenders: Kelli Hubly (POR), Hailie Mace (KC), Tatumn Milazzo (CHI), Becky Sauerbrunn (POR)

Midfielders and Forwards: Kerolin (NC), Jess Fishlock (RGN), Rose Lavelle (RGN), Diana Ordóñez (NC), Megan Rapinoe (RGN), Ebony Salmon (HOU)

Reign fall to Current

Kansas City goalscorer Kristen Hamilton advances against the Reign’s Sam Hiatt. / Imagn

In the first match of the year where the Reign opened up the entire lower and middle bowls of Lumen stadium, OL walked away in heartbreak. In the 4th minute, Alexis Loera put Kansas City on the board early, but with the Reign dominating the possession, they weren’t worrying yet. After the match, Megan Rapinoe spoke to the press, “Obviously going down that early is never good, but I wasn’t really too stressed. I didn’t feel like we were really too stressed about it. We felt like we had a lot of chances.” Unfortunately, there was a deadly combination of things happening in the match that would make their lives much harder. First, Kansas City goalkeeper AD Franch was playing as she has all season: absolutely lights out. Second, the Reign continued to have trouble with their finishes, something that had plagued them earlier in the season. 

The Reign retained even more possession in the second half, but then in the 63rd minute, Kansas City mounted a counter-attack and Kristen Hamilton was able to find netting to put the Current up by two. The Reign launched attack after attack to try to find their way back into the match but the Current defense and AD Franch in goal kept them off the board.

Megan Rapinoe went on to say about the match, “Football’s a little cruel sometimes. I feel like I don’t even really know if we deserve more out of the game. I think we didn’t really take our chances and impose ourselves on the game and obviously [it] was just very disappointing.” Head coach Laura Harvey’s take on the match was very similar, “Over the season did we have to probably be in the championship? Yes. [In] tonight’s game, did we deserve to be in the championship? No. We lacked quality when we needed it. That was the game really.”

With the 2–0 scoreline, Kansas City went from finishing last in the table in 2021 with only three wins to being in the Championship, furthering the argument for head coach Matt Potter winning NWSL Coach of the Year. All of this is even more impressive when you take into account that two stars of the Current, Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams, ended up not playing a single minute in the regular season for Kansas City. They will certainly be a force to be reckoned with next season at full strength. 

Dunn’s stoppage time goal ends Wave playoff run, Portland to finals

The Portland Thorns celebrate Crystal Dunn’s stoppage time goal. / Craig Mitchelldyer

It sounded like almost a fairytale ending; the Wave, an expansion team, was top of the table for the majority of the season. It was the first expansion team to make it to playoffs, won their playoff match in extra time to move to the semifinals, and was looking to set a new standard for expansion teams with their eyes set on taking home the NWSL Championship. However, standing in their way was a well-seasoned Portland team who barely missed out on the NWSL Shield, and had 20,000+ fans in the stands having their backs. 

The Wave drew first blood when in the 8th minute, Alex Morgan found Taylor Kornieck unmarked in the box and Kornieck’s aerial skill put San Diego up 1–0. It started to feel like it was going to be a replay of the Wave’s 2–0 win in Portland in late August where Portland just never really found their footing. In the 20th minute, Portland was able to equalize when a failed clearance on a corner fell to Rocky Rodriguez at the top of the box, and Rodriguez hit an absolute banger into the upper right corner that San Diego goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan had no chance of stopping. 

Taylor Kornieck celebrates her early goal. / San Diego Wave FC

In the second half, Portland really settled into the match whereas San Diego started to show some fatigue, which was understandable considering they went 120 minutes in the quarterfinals. Portland kept testing Sheridan, but the Canadian goalkeeper was showing why she is up for NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year. Wave defender Naomi Girma did an absolutely amazing job of shutting down Portland’s star striker Sophia Smith all match long. The two are former college teammates, having played together at Stanford for two years before Smith left early to join the NWSL. When the match passed the 90-minute mark and went into stoppage, it looked like the match was going to head into extra time. In the 3rd minute of stoppage, Portland ended that thought. After another non-clearance off a corner kick, Crystal Dunn took an impossible shot—the expected goal only being 0.044—from right inside the box that found the upper left corner. It was Dunn’s first goal this season and it came just 156 days after giving birth to her son, Marcel. With less than a minute left in stoppage time and still no shot on goal in the second half, the Wave’s final hopes were finished. 

Even though they didn’t make it to the Championship, the Wave still have a lot to be proud of this season. They had three players in the NWSL Best XI first team, set the regular-season attendance record selling out Snapdragon Stadium, Alex Morgan won the Golden Boot, both Morgan and Girma are up for MVP, and they have a franchise player in Girma that will likely be the staple in their backline for years to come. Head coach Casey Stoney has created an environment in San Diego where players have thrived and the Wave as an organization has created a new benchmark for expansion clubs to measure themselves by.

The 2022 NWSL Championship will take place this Saturday, October 29 at 8pm ET on CBS. 

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