It seems like the NWSL season only just began, yet here we are at the end of the regular season. The second year of the NWSL offered plenty of surprises, not the least of which was the bottom two teams from last season making the playoffs this season; although in fairness, Seattle was not much of a surprise.
Two teams – Seattle and FC Kansas City – surpassed the top point total from 2013 (38). Every team surpassed Washington’s bottom of the table point total from last season (14). Kim Little’s 16 goals far surpassed Lauren Holiday’s league leading 12 goals from a year ago.
Of course, we’d be remiss if we did not point out that every team had two more games this season than they did last season to reach these records. Nevertheless, many of the performances were highly impressive.
Without further adieu, we bring you the final NWSL Power Rankings for the 2014 season.
1. Seattle Reign FC (16-2-6), 1st Place (Last Week – 1)
Two losses. That’s right, including their Sunday 1-0 defeat against Portland, Seattle only lost two games all season long. Their 54 points absolutely crushed the 38 points achieved by Western New York, Portland and FC Kansas City last season.
The Reign were dominant all season long apart from a stretch in late June and July where they looked every so slightly lethargic. Laura Harvey no doubt will win Coach of the Year, Kim Little will take the Golden Boot and very likely the MVP Award in her first season in NWSL.
Seattle will serve as the benchmark for teams like Houston and Boston who are rebuilding for next season.
As dominant as Seattle has been, the season will be a disappointment if they do not win the championship. The road starts Sunday night against Washington.
2. FC Kansas City (12-7-5), 2nd Place (Last week – 2)
At one point in the season, FC Kansas City actually looked better than Seattle. Then, on July 13th they took a heavy 7-1 beating at the hands of Portland and they have never looked quite the same since. They have plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball, and there is absolutely no reason why they should not have a strong chance of winning the title. However, unless they can recover their mid-season form, they may well exit in the first round against the Thorns.
This will be the second year in a row that the Blues host a semifinal playoff game. Last year it did not turn out very well for them as they lost 3-2 against Portland. This year they have a shot at redemption against that same Thorn team. Will the results be different?
3. Washington Spirit (10-9-5), 4th Place (Last week – 3)
The table says Portland is better than Washington. We aren’t so sure about that, however. Both teams have had their ups and downs, but the Spirit’s ups and downs have been far less volatile. They have been a much more steady team throughout the season, even if they have leaked their fair share of goals.
Washington might well have taken 3rd place in the standings as well but for the fact that they faced their bogey team this weekend. The Spirit have struggled against Sky Blue, drawing 3-3 with them in Maryland in May before losing 4-2 in July in New Jersey. The rubber match went to Sky Blue once again this weekend at Maryland, a 1-0 defeat for the Spirit.
Washington goes into their playoff match with Seattle with plenty of weapons in their arsenal and every chance of pulling off a playoff shocker. Earlier this month they went into Memorial Stadium in Seattle and came away with a 1-1 draw, which will have boosted their confidence.
4. Portland Thorns FC (10-8-6), 3rd Place (Last week – 5)
Just when it looked like their season was over, Portland found a way into the playoffs. A win over Seattle combined with a draw by Chicago against Western New York (as well as Washington’s loss) catapulted them from 5th place all the way into 3rd place.
None of the other three teams will be pleased to see Portland in the playoffs, least of all Kansas City. The Thorns will have confidence going on the road in the playoffs having beaten FCKC last year. In three meetings this season between the teams, the home team won all three times (Portland twice and FCKC once).
Portland has an impressive array of offensive talent at their disposal. Their playoff fate will lie in their ability to keep other teams off the scoreboard, however. The Thorns have been on the wrong end of some fairly lopsided scorelines this season, the time to tighten up at the back is now.
5. Chicago Red Stars (8-7-7), 5th Place (Last week – 4)
All Chicago had to do was beat an under-performing Western New York side. They had the benefit of a home crowd on their side in doing it. They had momentum, having won two home games in a row. Instead, they went down 3-1 and needed a penalty in stoppage time of the 2nd half to come away with a 3-3 draw.
It was a wild match which saw three penalties for the Red Stars, one of which was missed by Christen Press. The draw coupled with Portland’s win the next day meant Chicago’s season ended early.
The Red Stars have a few positives to draw on and good building blocks for next season, but none of that will remove the pain of coming so close to the playoffs but falling just short.
6. Sky Blue FC (9-8-7), 6th Place (Last week – 6)
After a poor first three months of the season, Sky Blue FC finished strong and in the end, fell just two points shy of the point total that put them in the playoffs last season. SBFC won all four of their August matches and forced the league to reschedule their postponed match against Houston when it looked like they might actually have a chance at the playoffs.
Ultimately, SBFC missed out on 4th place by only one point. A season outcome that was unthinkable in early July. This gives them plenty to build on. The play of Nadia Nadim in the final month of the season, in particular, gives hope for next season assuming she comes back.
7. Western New York Flash (8-12-4), 7th Place (Last week – 7)
From 1st to 7th place is not a good look for the Flash. Western New York suffered from a spate of injuries beginning in the preseason and running through the entirety of the regular season. If it could go wrong for the Flash, it always seemed that it did.
The organization has a lot of work to do for next season in order to turn things around. The departure of Samantha Kerr for Perth Glory won’t help matters much. There is no clear indication at this point that she will be back as far as we are aware.
8. Boston Breakers (6-16-2), 8th Place (Last week – 8)
The Breakers topped off a second half resurgence this week when they beat Houston to finally move out of last place. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher has easily been their MVP this season despite some fantastic play down the stretch from Heather O’Reilly.
Looking towards next season, the Breakers previously traded away their 1st round draft pick so rebuilding the team will be a tad more difficult than they might like. The team can build off the improved play over the second half of the season but the Breakers still have a long way to go in order to be competitive.
9. Houston Dash (5-16-3), 9th Place (Last week – 9)
The season did not end the way that the Dash might have liked. Six consecutive losses resulted in a final record that is not representative of just how hard the Dash played this year and how difficult they were to beat.
The #1 pick in the 2015 College Draft will go a long way towards helping the Dash to rebuild for next season. There will likely be wholesale changes in the roster including in the international spots where Seattle serves as a blueprint given the impact Kim Little and Naho Kawasumi have had this season (as well as Jessica Fishlock).
Houston does have a core to build around now, however, and as competitive as the team was this season, there is every reason to believe that a few key changes could propel them into playoff contention.