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NWSL Week 20: San Diego clinches, KC eliminated

Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego became the first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs while Kansas City was eliminated with their loss and Orlando’s win. There was a lot of movement in the table as teams push to get above the playoff line–only three teams ended the weekend in the same place they started in.

San Diego punches ticket to playoffs

San Diego’s clinical finishing led them to silence nearly 20,000 fans in Providence Park on multiple occasions. When Kyra Carusa scored what would be the game-winning goal in the 20th minute, even though she was at the top of the box, Carusa thought, “It was like am I offsides?…It got so quiet.”

Heading into the weekend, if either Portland or San Diego won the matchup between the top two teams in the table, they would’ve clinched a spot in the playoffs, and by winning the Wave both moved to the top of the table and clinched their second straight playoff berth. Alex Morgan would go on to score the second goal for the Wave later in the second half, ending her four month scoring drought.

Thorns head coach Mike Norris remarked after the match that the performance was disappointing and that Portland’s first half performance wasn’t “anywhere near where it needed to be at this stage in the season.” With the loss, the Thorns drop down to second in the standings and will have their chance to clinch next weekend when they host currently third ranked Gotham FC.

Spirit winless drought ends against Kansas City

The Washington Spirit earned their first regular season win since June thanks to the stoppage time goal from Trinity Rodman that pulled them ahead of the Current, 2-1. The Spirit had been resting precariously above the playoff line the last couple of weeks, but with the win have moved firmly up into fifth in the table. Their game next week against sixth ranked OL Reign will be a big one for putting them in a position for playoffs.

With the loss, the Kansas City current have dropped down to the bottom of the table, and with the Orlando win on Monday night, have been officially mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

After the match, interim head coach Caroline Sjöblom talked about her disappointment with the loss, “I thought we deserved a better result today, I’m proud of the way we played, the chances we created and the way we controlled the game, but it’s more than that, it’s set pieces, it’s transitions and today that’s how Washington won the game.”

Chicago’s hopes stay alive, Louisville’s scoring woes continue

Chicago took all three points at home while hosting Racing Louisville—a team that had shut them out in all three previous meetings this season—thanks to a well-timed breakaway by Bianca St. Georges in the first half. The points moved the Red Stars up into eleventh place and is keeping their playoff hopes, however precarious, alive.

The defense kept Racing off the board with Alyssa Naeher making five saves while Casey Krueger made an incredible sliding clearance as stoppage time dwindled in order to keep Louisville off the board. In the final seconds Tierna Davidson did take an accidental high boot to the face from Uchenna Kanu and was taken to the hospital for further evaluation. An update from the team Sunday morning noted that she is doing well and at home resting.

Between Bianca St. Georges’ goal looking fairly close to being offside, and an awarded penalty kick which VAR overturned, Louisville fans are no fans of VAR. Not to say that it’s all on VAR. Racing had chances to score, but now have gone three straight matches without finding the net. The loss dropped them down into tenth, with the chances of a playoff spot relying on outcomes of other matches, not just their own.

Alozie dashes a Gotham playoff clinch

Michelle Alozie scored a brace Sunday to keep Gotham from clinching their spot in the playoffs. Retaining roughly 30% possession in the match, the Dash made Gotham pay with the chances they did have. Houston also put on a strong defensive showing until the final whistle, getting the all-too-important shutout while Gotham finished the match with 31 crosses, 23 shots, and a 2.34xG (expected goals). The win shot Houston from tenth in the standings up into eighth.

“We’ve conceded the least amount of goals in this season for a reason, hats off to our defense,” Alozie said of the Dash defensive effort. “We put our bodies on the line as we saw in this game and in every game. They are relentless back there and they show the Houston grit every time. I’m blessed to be able to play in front of them. I know that they’re going to give it their all. So, I have to give it my all up the top”

“We dominated from start to finish,” Gotham head coach Juan Carlos Amorós said of the match. “Obviously, we’ve had a couple switching-off moments at the back where obviously they punished us…But at the same time – the performance of the team, how they engage with the fans, the style – I’m proud of them. This is the way forward.”

With the loss, Gotham remains third in the table but their hopes at vying for the shield are lessened slightly, but they’ll have a chance to make up some important ground next week against current second-ranked Portland and work towards getting the first round playoff bye.

Reign, down to 10, hold off Courage attack

The Reign continue in their funk, where they’ve only won one match in their last seven games across all competitions. OL Reign scored early and the Courage attack, which had been relentless in the first half, was able to equalize later in the half thanks to a Kerolin breakaway and the Reign defense being caught very out of shape. VAR reviewed the play to check for offside, and what ended up being nearly a six minute stoppage in play ended with the call standing.

Later in first half stoppage, Kerolin was on another break, and Alana Cook had what turned out to be a match-saving foul for which she was given a red card but it meant that the Reign would have to play the entire second half with 10. In the second half, the Courage had 18 shots, but the 6 on target were mainly right at Reign goalkeeper Claudia Dickey, not proving to be much of a challenge.

This was the second time this regular season where the Courage’s opponents received a first half red card, and the Courage were unable to put the match away. Only getting one point out of the match, the Courage stay in fourth thanks to goal differential but remain in a good position to make playoffs heading into the final two matches.

The Reign were able to split the points in a gritty, but not pretty, defensive showing in the second half, but it came at a cost. With her red card, Cook will be suspended from the week 21 matchup against the Washington Spirit, and Nikki Stanton earned her fifth yellow of the regular season, so she’ll be unavailable as well.

Even with the draw, the Reign moved down from fifth to sixth in the table and sit very precariously above the playoff line solely on goal differential. They have a quick turn around from a Sunday to Friday game–Megan Rapinoe’s “Forever Reign” farewell game. They are looking to break the NWSL attendance record and will hope the fan presence help the team find their groove in the final games of the regular season.

Orlando ends the Tweed unbeaten streak

In the must win matchup between the seventh ranked Orlando Pride and the eighth ranked Angel City—both with 25 points—Orlando came out on top 1-0 thanks to Adriana’s brilliant 22nd minute shot on the volley. Neither team played their best football, but sometimes a match is more about gritting out the win, and Monday was definitely that.

After the Pride scored, they bunkered down and defended well against the Angel City attack that seemed so close to a goal, but failed to find netting. With the three points, the Pride remained seventh place, tied with sixth ranked Reign in points, but three goals behind in goal differential.

In the words of Angel City interim head coach Becki Tweed, “I don’t think it’s a game where we can walk away from it saying that we were beaten by the other team—we beat ourselves.” The LA-based team ended the match with 21 shots, and an xG over 2, and yet they couldn’t find that one clinical touch to score.

Losing at this point makes ACFC’s road to the playoffs a bit harder, they dropped from eighth down to ninth and on top of winning their remaining games, they will also require certain outcomes to end up above the playoff line.

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