how playoff battle shapes up in NWSL’s final round

The final matches of National Women’s Soccer League’s 11th regular season take place on Sunday – aka Decision Day – and each one holds serious playoff ramifications. Of the 12 clubs competing this year, two have already clinched play-off places, with eight remain in contention for four positions. It promises to be some weekend …

Angel City FC vs Portland Thorns
The reigning champions and first-placed Portland Thorns affirmed their playoff bye in the penultimate weekend with a goal from Japan’s Hina Sugita. She and golden boot leader Sophia Smith, who has just returned from injury, will be rested for the first round of the playoffs but still have the Supporters Shield to secure, vying for that trophy with San Diego. Thorns head to Los Angeles attempt to that achieve that, meeting an Angel City FC side hoping to scrape their way into the playoffs for the first time in their second year.

San Diego Wave vs Racing Louisville
San Diego host Louisville in a match that could earn them their first piece of silverware in only their second season: if they win and Portland lose in LA, they’ll collect the Supporters Shield. No matter the result, the Wave are through to the playoffs with a bye, a remarkable success for the second-year expansion side led by former England captain, Casey Stoney. Racing need a win and other results to be kind to them in order to make the playoffs.

North Carolina Courage vs Washington Spirit
This is where the fun begins as two formidable teams stacked with talent joust to ensure their playoff positioning. The pair head into Sunday’s contest equal on 30 points, a total also shared by Gotham FC, with the three teams, who take up third, fourth and fifth spots in the NWSL split only by goal differential. The game in Washington is a match-up of wicked wingers and lethal attacks: it should be some watch.

Gotham FC vs Kansas City Current
World Cup champion and longtime NWSL defender Ali Krieger hangs up her boots after this season, and is set to be honoured in her final home match of the regular season as Gotham host the Current with thier respective playoff places in the balance. Kansas City fell short of the playoffs this year, in a surprise slide from their loss to the Thorns in last year’s final.

Chicago Red Stars vs OL Reign
The Red Stars never recovered – nor, one could argue, did the USA – from the patella tendon tear that sidelined Mallory Swanson in April. One of just two teams already eliminated from the playoffs, they host Megan Rapinoe’s last dance with OL Reign, who sit in a precarious sixth place, just marginally north of the playoff line with a smattering of teams ready to supplant them.

Orlando Pride vs Houston Dash
The Pride and Dash meet on the outside of the playoff spots looking in, currently ranked in seventh and 10th place respectively. Houston face a tall order to climb their way into the playoffs, but Orlando are certainly capable of ending Sunday with more games to play in the post season.

What have we learned this season?

After Sunday, six teams will progress towards the Championship match, scheduled for 11 November in San Diego. And if we’ve learned anything in NWSL’s 11th year it is that the league is more unpredictable and gripping as ever. That said, Portland Thorns’s form this year has been predictably strong, not just in terms of points and trophy-count but also in regards to their dominance of style and finesse. With three Championships in the cabinet, they appear more than capable of collecting a fourth this season.

Portland Thorns will go in to their final match full of confidence. Photograph: Amanda Loman/Getty Images

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman previewed this season by highlighting the growth in ticket sales, and across many clubs attendance numbers have certainly delivered. Megan Rapinoe’s farewell in Seattle broke the official league-wide attendance record, pulling in 34,140 supporters. With 683,000 viewers, it was also the most-watched regular season match in NWSL history. Elsewhere, Berman reported that five of 12 clubs broke their personal attendance records this season.

Want to tune in to Decision Day? International viewers can do so for free at USA-based viewers can do so at Paramount+.

Talking Points

On Monday, a Mary Earps limited-edition goalkeeper kit was quietly made available by Nike. The release followed months of tension over the lack of the kit and, perhaps not suprisingly, it subsequently sold out in a matter of hours.

The Women’s Champions League resumed this week. The second qualifying round features 24 teams competing in a two-legged tie, with winners progressing to the group stage. Already a few ties have been back-and-forth battles. Wolfsburg fought back to a 3-3 finish against Paris FC thanks to a brace of headers from Alexandra Popp, while Manchester United also came from behind to draw 1-1 with Paris Saint-Germain thanks to Melvine Malard’s 70th-minute equaliser.

Jenni Hermoso was honoured at the International Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday evening at a ceremony in Pachuca. Photograph: Jam Media/Getty Images

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