With the month of August upon us, we are in the final stretch of the NWSL season with three playoff spots still up for grabs and all but one team (Boston) still mathematically alive. Seattle has run away with the regular season title, already recording 11 more points than last season’s regular season winner, Western New York, with four matches still to play.
With teams having anywhere from 3 to 5 remaining, the clearest indication of playoff positioning is points per game (PPG). In this instance, the PPG standings are identical to the regular standings, but give and even clearer appreciation of just how close it is from 3rd to 5th place and just how far back Western New York is in 6th place.
|2||FC Kansas City||37||21||1.76|
|5||Chicago Red Stars||28||20||1.40|
|6||Western New York Flash||24||21||1.10|
|7||Sky Blue FC||22||20||1.10|
A look at the remaining matches for each team and their chances of reaching the playoffs:
Seattle Reign - The Reign reaching the playoffs has long been a foregone conclusion. Clinching the NWSL Shield this week capped a fantastic turnaround; from 7th place on 18 points last season to regular season champions on 49 points with four to go. The Reign will host a semifinal match as well as the Championship Game should they go through.
FC Kansas City - The Blues have stumbled a little bit in recent weeks and made things a tad more interesting than should be the case, however they could clinch both the playoffs and home field advantage in the semifinals with a win over Seattle this weekend and a Washington Spirit loss or draw against Chicago.
Following their home match this weekend against Seattle, FC Kansas City closes things out with a home date against Boston on the 6th and a visit to Chicago on the 9th. Given their lead over 3rd place stands at 6 points and 9 points over 5th place with three to go, it would take an epic collapse for FC Kansas City not to qualify for the playoffs in the 2nd spot.
Battling It Out
Washington Spirit - The Spirit’s final three matches are far from straight forward: home against Chicago (August 2nd), away to Seattle (August 9th) home to a hot Sky Blue FC side (August 16th).
A win over Chicago this weekend would put them 6 points clear of 5th place and all but guarantee a playoff spot. A loss to Chicago and their playoff chances will be left wobbling with two to go. Much will depend on whether Seattle pushes hard to win its remaining games or eases off the gas a bit looking to avoid injuries heading into the playoffs.
Portland Thorns - Portland has a potentially easier road to the playoffs: home against Houston (August 3rd), away to Boston (August 10th) and home against Seattle (August 17th).
Seattle has a chance to record a season sweep over Portland, so count on a full strength Seattle side despite the fact that it is the last match of the season. Boston has been surprising teams and beat Portland in Harvard Stadium earlier this season by a 4-1 scoreline. Portland has been vulnerable defensively, but I would not bet against them taking 6 of 9 points.
Chicago Red Stars - Chicago has a game in hand heading into the stretch: away to Washington (August 2nd), home to FC Kansas City (August 9th), home to Boston Breakers (August 13th), home to Western New York Flash (August 16th).
Saturday’s game against Washington is not necessarily a must win, but it is a must not lose. A loss puts them in a deep hole. Yes they have the game in hand, but I would not bet on them taking maximum points out of 3 games over 7 days. If they cannot take at least a draw from Washington, then they will likely need help from other teams taking points off of Portland.
On the Fringe
Western New York Flash - A forgettable season will soon be over: away to Boston (August 3rd), home against Sky Blue FC (August 13th), away to Chicago Red Stars (August 16th).
This season has not been kind to the Flash. They have lost two keepers to season ending injuries and were missing Abby Wambach for most of the season. Technically they are still alive, but it would take a massive recovery to contend for a playoff spot – likely they would need to take maximum points. For a team that has not won since June and that has lost five of its last six, this seems unlikely. More realistic is trying to hang on to 6th place with Sky Blue and Houston breathing down their necks.
Sky Blue FC - Sky Blue has 3-4 matches remaining, depending on whether a postponed match with Houston is made up: away to Houston (August 9th), away to Western New York (August 13th), away to Washington Spirit (August 13th), home to Houston Dash (TBA).
A few weeks ago the notion of Sky Blue being “on the fringe” and within spitting distance of catching the Flash for 6th would have been laughable. Now, they are two points back of Western New York with a genuine chance of catching them. They are still alive for the playoffs, but it would require them to be near perfect, and with three matches on the road that seems unlikely.
Only Technically Alive
Houston Dash - The Dash have 4-5 matches remaining depending on making up the aforementioned postponed match: away to Portland (August 3rd), away to Seattle (August 6th), home to Sky Blue (August 9th), away to Boston (August 17th), away Sky Blue (TBA).
The Dash have fought valiantly this season, often punching above their weight. They have shown improvement throughout the season. Sitting on 18 points, though, playoff hopes are all but gone. If the Dash won out, they could finish on 33 points but they would need every team in front of them to collapse (and doubling their win total for the season seems just a bit unrealistic). A loss to Portland this weekend and they are officially eliminated.
The Dash do have the chance to play the role of playoff spoiler against Portland this weekend, however, and have a realistic shot at pushing up the table to 6th place if they can finish strongly.
Boston Breakers - It has been a truly forgettable season for Boston. For a team that finished in 5th place with 30 points last year, going to the cellar on 14 points is a big fall. To make matters worse, the Breakers don’t even get to use the #1 draft pick they have earned; they traded it to Sky Blue already.
Still, there is hope for next season based on the turnaround that Washington and Seattle have engineered this season. It will require a major restructuring, however, as Boston lacks the core pieces that Seattle and Washington had to work with.
No surprise that Seattle and FC Kansas City take the top two spots, that is all but guaranteed. While Portland is capable of a collapse that would crack the door open for others, we see Portland making the playoffs and Chicago causing disappointment in the D.C. area by pipping Washington to the final spot.