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NWSL Week 21: Portland back atop the table, Chicago eliminated

Photo Copyright EM Dash for USA TODAY Sports

The penultimate weekend of the NWSL regular season has come to a close. Portland is back atop the table and has clinched a playoff bye, their NWSL Shield hopes will lie in their own hands next weekend. Chicago joined Kansas City, becoming the second team eliminated from playoff contention. The Reign set a league attendance record this weekend while Kansas City and North Carolina both set team attendance records.

Rapinoe’s Farewell match ends in a scoreless draw

The Spirit and the Reign faced off in a fifth versus sixth matchup in the table Friday evening. The match was potentially Megan Rapinoe’s final match in Seattle, the team she has played with since joining the NWSL in its inaugural season in 2013. In a new NWSL attendance record, 34,130 people watched in Lumen Stadium as the game ended 0-0.

Trinity Rodman’s press and speed in behind caused a lot of problems for the Reign defense, with the Spirit forward notching eight shots in the match, the highest number of shots from any Washington player in a regular season match this year. The Spirit ended the match with 17 shots and a 1.68 xG, but Reign goalkeeper Claudia Dickey was able to keep them out of the net with some impressive saves.

Splitting the points, both the Spirit and Reign remain in fifth and sixth, respectively, but the Spirit are even on points with both the Courage in third and Gotham in fourth. The Reign have now been winless in three, a worrisome trend as the regular season wraps up.

There were some big milestones for both teams as Reign defender Emily Sonnett and Spirit forward Ashley Hatch both hit the 10,000 career minutes marker. Additionally, Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury earned her 30th career shutout, only the sixth goalkeeper in NWSL history to hit that milestone.

Racing’s thrilling comeback

Orlando reminded viewers exactly why 2-0 is the worst scoreline in soccer as Louisville came back from down two by the 21st minute to win 3-2 in the end. Heading into the match, Racing hadn’t scored a goal in the last three matches across all competitions and in Friday night’s game they scored one via penalty kick, one in the run of play, and were able to force an own goal on a set piece.

“We’ve just looked at the goals [after the game], and it’s our own doing–individual errors that allow Louisville to win the game,” Orlando Pride head coach Seb Hines said after the match. “It’s something that we haven’t seen recently, we’ve been [playing] really good. And, I hate to make excuses, but with the travel and injuries and so on, played part in the in the game. I can never fault the players’ efforts.” 

Racing went into the match knowing that a win was the only thing that would keep them from being eliminated this weekend, with the three points, they’ve kept their hopes alive–albeit small–and moved from 10th to ninth in the standings, just two points outside of the current playoff line. Orlando started the weekend in seventh but even in points with sixth placed Reign still sits in sixth but one point out.

NWSL Shield is now Portland’s to lose

In a defensive stalemate which led to only 17 shots and 1.02xG between the two teams combined, Portland was able to find the difference maker as Sam Coffey served up a perfect cross which found the head of Hina Sugita at the far post. Both teams struggled to get shots off inside the box in dangerous situations, and out of the 40 crosses made during the match, only seven were successful.

With the win, Portland went atop the tale, and clinched a top-two finish meaning they will get the quarterfinal bye for playoffs regardless of the outcome of next week’s match. Considering last year the Thorns were in the same situation and drew the last match leaving the door open for rivals OL Reign to take home the Shield, they will be fired up to not let history repeat itself. Gotham dropped from third to fourth due to goal differential and will need to win next week to clinch their playoff spot.

Courage and Wave draw, San Diego clinches playoff bye

The Courage game plan worked immaculately against the San Diego offense, not allowing a Wave shot until the 41st minute and holding them to just 4 shots in the match. Some phenomenal goalkeeping by Kailen Sheridan and a goalline clearance by Madison Pogarch kept the Courage attack at bay until the final whistle. Sheridan earned her 8th clean sheet of the regular season with the scoreless draw.

The Courage set an attendance record with 10,434 fans showing up to WakeMed Soccer Park for the Saturday night matchup.

Starting the weekend atop the table, the draw and the Portland win moved the Wave down into second, but clinched their having a top-two finish to the season and the quarterfinal playoff bye. This means that with the final being in San Diego, they have an opportunity to win the Championship and not go on the road at all. North Carolina moved from fourth to third but is even on points with both Gotham and Washington below them.

Current routs Red Stars, Chicago Eliminated

All of the low-scoring matches in the weekend were really just saving up goals for use in Kansas City’s 6-3 win against Chicago. The Red Stars were missing key defenders Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger heading into the match, and their presence was greatly missed. The Red Stars did a good job of continuing to respond to the Kansas City goals until they made it 4-3, at which point things started to get out of hand.

Kansas City had already been eliminated from playoff contention and with the loss, Chicago joined them. The Current did set their own attendance record with 15,671 people showing up to watch the match, which is great news other than the fact that the new Current stadium which should open next year only has a capacity of 11,500.

Angel City playoff hopes alive, Dash’s odds shrink

Angel City came out on their front foot in Houston, holding a 70% possession in the opening 15 minutes, but the Houston defense of their own box kept all the ACFC crosses from finding their intended targets. Houston’s attack was fairly direct and they continued to challenge Angelina Anderson in goal for Angel City–normal starter DiDi Haracic is out with a back injury.

In the 44th minute, Houston finally broke through as a beautiful transition build-up ended with Nichelle Prince finding Andressa Alves at the top of the box, getting Alves her first NWSL goal. Angel City equalized in the 68th minute when Alyssa Thompson got in behind the Dash backline just two minutes after entering the match. Against the run of play, Angel City got the go-ahead goal in stoppage time.

Angel City’s playoff hopes are still alive as they go from ninth up to eighth and just one point out of the playoff line. They’ll need all three points against top-of-the-table Portland in order to make it above the line–and some help from other outcomes as well. For Houston to make the playoffs, they’ll need a win, and specific outcomes from three of the other matches.

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