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Ranking the potential NWSL Championship matchups

The NWSL Championship could have a potential regional rivalry, a clash of two veterans and a battle of the top two teams

© Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The National Women’s Soccer League season is down to four teams who will duke it out next month for year-end bragging rights. The NWSL Championship — being held at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium — is likely to set an attendance record for the match and will again be shown on CBS in primetime.

Of the four winners, only the Portland Thorns have won before. If they do it again they will be the first to four titles and become the third team to repeat. But before we get there, a FIFA international week followed by the semifinals on Nov. 5 will take place. That means there are four potential matchups for the Nov. 11 decider.

Here is a look at what is appealing about each of them.

Wave vs. Thorns

The storyline: 1 vs 2

Reasons it’ll be must-watch: On Sept. 30, the Wave marched into Providence Park and smacked the Thorns, 2-0, to set themselves up for the NWSL Shield, the second-year side’s maiden trophy. They could go through the Thorns again and make it 2-for-2 while also holding out their chests as the new attendance queens of the NWSL. Wave captain Alex Morgan began her NWSL career in Portland and helped the Thorns capture the inaugural championship but has not been back to a final since. The Thorns edged the Wave on Crystal Dunn’s stoppage time goal in last year’s semifinal.

Reasons to say no: The Wave already won what appeared to be a decisive victory over the Thorns to help win the Shield so do we want to see that again? Plus with the Challenge Cup format loading up games between teams in the same regions means that this would be the 10th (!) meeting between the clubs since the Wave came into the league in 2022.

Wave vs. Gotham

The storyline: 2018 redemption tour

Reasons it’ll be must-watch: It was only five years ago that Gotham — formerly Sky Blue FC — nearly went an entire 24-match season without a single win. The goalkeeper on that team was Kailen Sheridan, who suffered through a 1-17-6 personal record. Sheridan helped Gotham back to the playoffs in 2021 before being traded to become the Wave’s first goalkeeper. Wouldn’t it be something if the path to an NWSL Championship wound up going through her old team? And wouldn’t it be something for Gotham to go from the extreme bottom to a chance at the title in half a decade — including 2020 when the regular season never happened.

Reasons to say no: These teams have played four times so far and the Wave have won them all. Other than Morgan bagging four goals in the Wave’s first regular-season home match, none of them have been particularly compelling. At least this year’s aggregate was 3-1 after a ghastly 7-0 in 2022. 

Thorns vs. Reign

The storyline: Blood rivals ultimate grudge match.

Reasons it’ll be must-watch: On four previous occasions, the Thorns and Reign have been in opposing semifinals. One or both has always lost meaning we are still waiting for the ultimate showdown between the league’s original rivals. To date, the biggest match they played was the 2018 semifinal, won by the Thorns after going down by a goal. The Thorns proceeded to get drilled by the Courage a week later. In 2022, the Reign jumped the Thorns for the Shield on the final day but that was not in a head-to-head matchup. If this is the year it happens there may be some satisfaction playing the game in California which is staking a claim as the bastion of American women’s soccer.

Reasons to say no: This rivalry was a boon to NWSL in its early days. The spillover from the MLS Sounders/Timbers battles gave the league an instant matchup to circle on every calendar. But again, this would be the fifth meeting this season, including the Challenge Cup, and it seems like they are bound together at every opportunity. Plus, as good as the rivalry is, there is now enough following around the league that it sometimes just feels like overkill.

Reign vs. Gotham

The storyline: Who goes out on top?

Reasons it’ll be must watch: Between Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger, they have appeared in three NWSL Championships. Neither has brought home the trophy. Both World Cup and Olympic champions, Rapinoe and Krieger are retiring from soccer after their respective playoff runs end which means if their teams meet, it will be the last match for both. Rapinoe has garnered the lions’ share of retirement attention since the World Cup but the buzz has picked up for Krieger in recent weeks.

Reasons to say no: Can anyone who has been a loyal fan of U.S. Soccer over the last 15 years really stomach watching a match knowing that either Rapinoe or Krieger will go out on the wrong end of a match for one of the few trophies neither has ever had their hands on?

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