The NWSL playoffs are set after a chaotic regular season

The NWSL playoffs are set after a chaotic regular season

By Meg Linehan, Elijah Burke, Steph Young, Emily Olsen, Melanie Anziday and Jeff Rutter.

The NWSL’s final day of the 2023 regular season didn’t disappoint with drama or mayhem—especially with all six matches starting at the same time. The San Diego Wave built on their impressive season by defeating Louisville 2-0 to win the NWSL Shield for the second straight season. Megan Rapinoe scored to help the OL Reign secure a playoff berth. Sydney Leroux put a big exclamation point on Angel City’s first playoff appearance with a bicycle kick – a second straight year at the expense of the Portland Thorns, who had to settle for second place on the final day.

Sunday ended with 17 goals, several goal-line clearances, a handful of VAR checks and a red card (for Trinity Rodman, who left the field full of emotions).

And ultimately, it all leads to some sweet quarterfinal matches next weekend. OL Reign will host Angel City on Friday, October 20, while Gotham FC will head to North Carolina after a 2-2 draw to face the Courage on Sunday, October 22. – Meg Linehan, Women’s Football Secretary

Angel City wins big, heading into the postseason

Chances looked slim when Freya Coombe stepped down as head coach in June, but Angel City advanced to the final with a 5-1 win over NewSL champions Portland Thorns.

After a disappointing first season in 2022, the league’s primary target is to reach the playoffs, but interim head coach Becky Tweed is low on team confidence. Recent league wins over OL Reign, KC Current and Orlando Pride left them with no chance on a decisive day, and the Tweed team responded with one of the most convincing performances of the season as favorites to win it all.

Attacking full-back MA Vignola was among the highlights of his squad on a sunny Los Angeles afternoon, scoring the opening finish from a tight angle to give Savannah a chance they couldn’t miss. McCaskill scored a few minutes into the second half.

Angel City isn’t one of the top seeds, but this performance certainly puts them among the strongest contenders for their first NWSL championship. And Tweed, who has been instrumental in the club’s dramatic turnaround, is undoubtedly among the nominees for manager of the year. – Elijah Burke, US Soccer Writer

San Diego Wave won the NWSL Shield in the second season

The Wave dominated Louisville from the start, winning 2-0. The Wave defenses mostly kept them locked down as the Chargers tried to get their heads out in their transition game, and the timing of the game was never too dramatic. Alex Morgan quietly took a lot to the plate, playing provider for her teammates and sneaking into Racing’s passing channels to create several steals, scoring a second-half banger and scoring JD Shaw’s first goal.

After a long recovery from injury, Racing brought back Jaylin Howell in the second half and tried to dig in, but the Wave continued to make inroads in the final third. Melanie Barcenas replaced her in 64′ and Jadin Shaw was able to get a little rest. Barcenas showed her skills in the box with some great football, but her nerves gave way to too much physical challenge, earning her a yellow card in the 80′. It was a very strong performance overall from a team with plans and they won a well-deserved Shield in only their second season, making Casey Stoney the talk of the year.

“This team loves pressure,” Stoney said after the game when asked about the Shield win. “This team, I think, excels in tight moments. So we’re going to be the team to beat. We’re going to be the team to beat because we won the Shield.” – Steph Young, Women’s Soccer Writer

After winning the 2021 NWSL Championship, the Washington Spirit missed the postseason. Improving on last year’s second-to-last finish, the team were eliminated from play-off contention before the decision day. The Spirit had a promising start but a red card for Rodman in the 22nd minute was the beginning of the end.

Three minutes after Rodman headed to the locker room in tears, North Carolina struck. Courage forward Caroline opened up space to start her team’s run, giving Manaka Matsukubo space to feed the ball to Tyler Lucy. There was a brief moment of questioning whether Matsukubo was offside, but in the end VAR ruled that it was “not a clear and obvious error”.

On Friday, Washington coach Mark Parsons said the team deserves a long-term vision from owner Michelle Kang with a significant financial investment.

“When we reflect at the end of the year, every year we’re reflecting and making decisions about how we’re going to be a top team,” Parsons said. “This club has never been like this consistently. And when someone like Michelle commits time, management, passion and finances to women, female athletes and women’s football like never before, that’s what the vision is all about. It is worth being there and this is a long-term vision.

Now the spirit has more time than expected to prepare for the future. – Emily Olsen, staff football editor

Gaming – What’s Next?

Gotham FC survived the tournament by the skin of their teeth on goal difference, tying with 5th place Angel City and 7th place Orlando Pride to finish the regular season with 31 points. The New Jersey-based team dominated the current game against low-ranked Kansas City, but eventually drew with an own goal. Captain Ali Krieger made a crucial goal-line save in the first half which kept the batsmen in contention. Maintaining a strong defensive end will be crucial for Gotham against a strong North Carolina Courage side. His courage, however, could be in trouble with Golden Boot contender Caroline, who suffered an injury in the second half of their decider against the Spirit. The back-to-back Challenge Cup winners may have a slight advantage if Gotham can’t clean up their defense before this quarterfinal match. It will definitely be a must-see game, which could be Krieger’s last game in the legend. – Melanie Anziday, football writer

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A close matchup between the 4th and 5th seeds will see Angel City head to the beach to visit OL Reign. Rapinoe’s brace took Reign from narrowly grabbing a final playoff spot to finishing in the top four. Sofia Huerta is back from a late-season injury and should help add another dimension to the offense, while Laura Harvey hopes Rose Lavelle can play at some level this postseason.

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Don’t let Angel City’s 5-seed ranking fool you: Tweed has been the hottest team in the NWSL since taking over as interim coach. Their 5-1 loss to the Thorns – five different players scored – shows how dangerous this team is in more ways than one.

San Diego and Portland will have a week off after finishing in the top two spots in the standings. As a 1-seed, San Diego will host the winner of OL Reign-Angel City, while Portland will face the winner of NC Courage-Gotham. – Jeff Rutter, football writer

(Photo: Ray Acevedo / USA Today)