Home Soccer NWSL Full Time: NWSL playoff race pandemonium

Full Time: NWSL playoff race pandemonium

Full Time: NWSL playoff race pandemonium

There were 729 possible playoff-clinching scenarios heading into the weekend. After five games, only one of the 12 teams, San Diego Wave, guaranteed its postseason spot. Kansas City Current, meanwhile, faces another elimination test tonight as Angel City and Orlando Pride finish up the weekend’s slate of games. I’m Emily Olsen here with Meg Linehan and Steph Yang, featuring Jeff Rueter — welcome to Full Time!

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Playoff Picture or Abstract Art?

Kansas City is caught up in other’s currents

Let’s start with what’s on the line tonight. Following its loss to the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday, Kansas City avoided being eliminated from the postseason, but it isn’t out of the woods yet as Angel City FC and Orlando close out the week. The Current will be watching closely and hoping for a draw as the team needs OL Reign, Houston Dash, Orlando, LA, Racing Louisville, and Chicago to all stay below 28 points to have a shot at extending its season.

While things are looking bleak for Kansas City, the other basement-dwelling team for most of the season actually looks like it has a fighting chance. To tell us more is our midwestern expert Jeff Rueter…

For Chicago, it’s not over until it’s over

When Mallory Swanson suffered a torn patellar tendon, all hope seemed lost for the Red Stars in 2023. The team struggled through the first half of the season, with a poor defensive record (41 goals conceded, 10 more than anyone else) possibly sinking the World Cup dreams of Casey Krueger and Tierna Davidson and leaving Chicago firmly fixed to the bottom of the table.

Tack on the sustained organizational turmoil that was made public last year, and you could forgive any player for firmly fixing their focus on next season.

And yet! How about those Red Stars!

It’s the season of chaos, a year lacking any meaningful front-runner. Why not let the Red Stars into the playoffs, which they could very much do with winnable games away at Kansas City and a home finale against OL Reign? Why not let the team with by far the worst expected goal differential in the league (-17.6, Houston is second-worst at -5.2) — crash the playoffs? Who cares that top goalscorer Ella Stevens has just four goals? Did you see how Bianca St. Georges blazed past Louisville’s entire backline before confidently roofing her finish?

It wouldn’t be the 2023 Red Stars without adversity, though. Davidson left the game for a trip to the hospital after taking a kick to the face. The club said she’s “doing well” and “resting at home” on Sunday afternoon, although her status should be monitored before the trip to Kansas City. Since Laura Ricketts took over as owner, there’s genuine reason for optimism in Bridgeview. A shock trip to the playoffs could jumpstart that reinvention. —Jeff Rueter

Meg’s Corner: NWSL is typically chaotic, but this is wild

Where to even start this week? How about at the top; Congratulations to the San Diego Wave for being the first team to finally, officially clinch the playoffs — a move they did in style by rolling into Providence Park and walking out with a 2-0 win.

Also good news for the Wave: One of those two goals was scored by Alex Morgan, her first goal for club or country since May. Jokes about the curse of Fox Sports’ giant Morgan statue aside, she has still been productive on the top line thanks to her movement, ability to draw defenders and assist creation for her teammates (you’re welcome, USWNT teammate Trinity Rodman). Still, Morgan is a goal-scorer, through and through. Not having the goal-drought narrative hanging around before the postseason has to be a relief.

You know that scene in “A Clockwork Orange” where Malcolm McDowell gets strapped down with his eyes held open? Watching the NWSL this weekend had that sort of vibe, except I was doing it to myself. I felt overwhelmed by all the things happening. Rodman stoppage-time winner! That outrageous Michelle Alozie chip! An Alex Morgan goal! Casey Krueger with a save off the line! Alana Cook DOGSO red card!

If this is what the final few weeks of the season are going to be… do I dare even imagine the chaos of these upcoming playoffs? Oh and the final day of games, which is two weeks away, every team plays in the 5 pm ET window.

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The Roman Empire

Ed. Note: Thanks to Courtney Stith’s post on X for coining Ro(d)man’s Empire.

Trinity Rodman flexed on ’em at Audi Field, and thanks to her stoppage time game-winning goal, helped the Washington Spirit scoot up to fifth place in the NWSL standings.

The Spirit really, really needed a win. After a strong start to 2023, the team hadn’t managed three points since June 18. Rodman provided a perfectly timed rescue, plus the Spirit got some extra help from the Courage-Reign draw in Seattle. With the entire table the way it is right now, the Spirit is absolutely a championship contender — but the morale boost from a late win at home had to happen this week because it’s not going to get any easier. The Spirit face two other teams fighting for playoff spots in their final two games, heading to Seattle to be the bad guys at Megan Rapinoe’s send-off before hosting the North Carolina Courage at home.

‘Guess I needed a good realignment’

Houston Dash forward and real-life medical professional Michelle Alozie thankfully had jokes after what was a scary collision during her side’s 2-0 win over Gotham. Alozie scored both goals, but it was the second chip-in that left viewers with a gasp.

In the second half, Alozie got on the end of a long ball from Maria Sanchez to beat two Gotham defenders. Her long-range chip went in but not before she collided with goalkeeper Mandy Haught leaving Alozie on the ground.

“Guess I needed a good realignment in my back, so she definitely helped me out with that,” she said after the game.

Alozie, who also plays for Nigeria, was also infamously stepped on by England’s Lauren James during the World Cup round of 16 this summer.

A look ahead

Who will join San Diego in the postseason? I really don’t know. But before we head to the penultimate weekend, Angel City FC and Orlando Pride face a crucial Monday night match.

Monday, October 2

Angel City vs. Orlando Pride @ 10 pm ET

Friday, October 6

Racing Louisville vs. Orlando Pride @ 7:30 pm ET OL Reign vs. Washington Spirit @ 8 pm ET

Saturday, October 7

Portland Thorns vs. Gotham FC @ 5 pm ET North Carolina Courage vs. San Diego Wave @ 7 pm ET KC Current vs. Chicago Red Stars @ 8 pm ET

Sunday, October 8

Houston Dash vs. Angel City @ 7 pm ET

Full-Time First Looks

Last week, NWSL expansion team Bay FC announced it hired Albertin Montoya as its inaugural coach. As a Bay Area local for many years, including a stint as head coach for FC Gold Pride in the Women’s Professional Soccer League, Montoya hopes to use familiarity to his advantage. “I’ve been around for quite some time, so I know the players that are around the league that have the Bay Area ties,” he said with a smile. “And if things come together the way we see it, we’d like to bring in some of the local talent that’s playing in other places around the league.”

This isn’t NWSL, but can we take a moment to admire USWNT forward Mia Fishel’s debut for Chelsea? She scored a goal in her first WSL game and the Blues took all three points against Tottenham.

Although Fishel, 22, only got her first USWNT call-up last month, she’s been lighting up Liga MX Femenil for two years. Before heading to London this summer, “Big Fish” scored 38 goals in 48 matches for Tigres. She was also the first foreign-born player to win the Golden Boot in the history of the league.

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(Top photo: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)