The Houston Dash have never been this close to earning a playoff berth and finishing atop the NWSL standings in franchise history. Now both are within their sight with a handful of games left. What are the chances that they can do both? We'll take a look at the seven teams that are all within six points of the top spot.
Angel City FC: One of the newest clubs in the league sits just six points out of the top spot in the NWSL standings. They are just three points shy of the final playoff spot currently held by the Chicago Red Stars. ACFC has seven games left to play with five away and just two at home. Three of their away games are against Chicago, San Diego and the Houston Dash currently holding down three of the four playoff berths. They have played all three at home and came away with two wins and a draw. On the road in 2022, deuces are wild as they have won two, lost two and earned two draws. They have held their own with road goal differential of minus two. With the second lowest goal scoring output in the league, they have the most challenging schedule left to play.
Chicago Red Stars: Saturday's 4-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage leaves them sixth place in the standings with five games to play. Chicago's streak of six consecutive seasons with a playoff berth in the NWSL is now in jeopardy and they have the toughest road to the playoffs they have had to face in some time. Chicago will have to play Houston, Portland and the OL Reign on the road where they are a combined 5W-9L-5D. They are winless in five tries against Portland and just one win in five road games with the OL Reign. Only against the Dash have they held sway as they are unbeaten in their last five games in the Bayou City. They also have to play Angel City in the final regular season game in Chicago which may very well determine their playoff dreams in 2022.
OL Reign: Right now the Reign are on the outside looking in but only by the slimmest of margins. The best team in the Pacific Northwest has possibly the easiest road to the playoffs. Having said that, the Orlando Pride whom they play twice in the next six games could be a thorn in the Reign's side. Currently, Orlando sits six points back of OLR whose defense has yielded the second fewest goals in the league in 2022. Will the loss of Ally Watt whom they traded to Orlando this past week come back to haunt them? Their fate is in their hands.
San Diego Wave: Currently holding down the final playoff berth, San Diego has been playing excellent soccer. They have given up a goal or less in five of their last seven outings including Saturday night's 3-1 win over the visiting Houston Dash. The win jumped SD into a logjam at the top of the table as they re even with Houston and Portland with 28 points. With five games remaining, they still have ley matches with Portland and OL Reign on the road. Those will surely determine if they are truly contenders or pretenders.
Kansas City: the new KC squad formerly the Utah Royals have perhaps the most interesting path to the playoffs, They get to build momentum over the next two weeks against North Carolina and Gotham before finding out their playoff fate against Chicago and Portland in the middle of their final six games. As the Utah Royals, they won two of three three against Chicago on the road. As the Current, they have not beaten CRS in two regular season tries. Maybe three's the charm. Combined as the Royals and Current, they have a win and two draws at home against Portland. Like I said, this will an interesting journey for Kansas City.
Portland Thorns: The Portland Thorns have two games in hand on the league with seven remaining. In addition, they play playoff chasers San Diego and Chicago at home. This will be their first meeting at home against San Diego in team history. Against Chicago at home during the regular season they are unbeaten in five games. Portland in 2022 is virtually unbeatable at home. The Houston Dash are the only ones to beat them on their home pitch. Through eight matches at home they have a goal differential this season of plus 15. In their previous nine seasons they have finished in the top three eight times with two first place finishes and two championships. Don't bet against them.
Houston Dash: The Houston Dash are n the verge of franchise history. Not only are they chasing their first ever playoff berth but they have a golden opportunity to finish at the top of the NWSL and possibly win a league championship. 2022 began with the removal of James Clarkson as coach and the insertion of Sarah Lowdon who did nothing more than to create the best defensive team in the league and the best start in team history under her tenure and now they are unbeaten in five straight under interim head coach Juan Carlos Amoros. Houston is in a great spot despite the loss on Saturday night to the San Diego Wave as they sit in a three way tie with SD and Portland. Their schedule is challenging but not impossible five games to play. On the road, at Chicago where they have 0W-3L-1D during the regular season is possibly the hardest part of the schedule. Although they have 15 losses in 22 outings against the Seattle based club, they get the OL Reign at home where they have been more respectable with 3W-4L-1D. This game on September 24th may very well determine where Houston ends up in the table.
So after those analyses here is how I see it all shaking out. Portland takes the top spot followed by Houston, San Diego and the OL Reign. This will leave everyone else on the outside looking in.