USWNT REWIND: NWSL PLAYOFF RACE INTENSIFIES AS OLYMPIANS RETURN
AUGUST 30 2021
While the Tokyo Olympics are in the rearview mirror, the summer of competition has hardly slowed stateside as the NWSL regular season remains competitive as ever with two months to go in the regular season.
Under the new playoff format for the 2021 season, the top six teams in the standings will clinch a postseason berth, with the top two teams receiving first-round byes. The third and fourth-place finishers in the table will also have the benefit of hosting their opening playoff matches, making every point pivotal in this highly competitive season.
With 32 points through 16 games (10-4-2 W-L-D) Portland Thorns FC sit atop the standings and are looking to win the NWSL Shield for the first time since 2016. After winning the International Women’s Champions Cup the previous weekend, Portland parlayed its momentum into league play, beating visiting NJ/NY Gotham FC, 2-1. Forward Sophia Smith opened the scoring for the Thorns in the 29th minute with a right-footed blast from just inside the area. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NWSL College Draft, Smith is tied for the team lead in scoring with five goals on the season.
The Thorns doubled their advantage in the 41st minute after a penalty kick by Canadian international Christine Sinclair, though Gotham pulled one back in the 78th after a header goal from Carli Lloyd. It was the 40th career NWSL goal for Lloyd, who will retire from both international and professional soccer later this year after one of the most decorated careers in U.S. Women’s National Team history.
However, Portland’s winning ways came to a close on Sunday, falling to Pacific Northwest neighbors OL Reign in another spirited installment of the Cascadia Rivalry. Playing in front of a crowd of 27,278 fans at Seattle’s Lumen Field in the first match of a doubleheader that also featured the Seattle Sounders hosting the Portland Timbers, the Reign jumped out to a 2-0 lead courtesy of a Megan Rapinoe brace. The USWNT striker put the home side in front in the 16th minute with a low driven shot that tucked inside the left post and added her second goal in the 40th minute, coolly converting from the penalty spot. It was the second consecutive multi-goal outing for Rapinoe, who has scored four goals in her two matches back from international duty. Dating back to the USA’s bronze medal match, Rapinoe has now tallied a brace in each of her last three matches for club and for country
Portland cut the deficit in half with a goal in first half stoppage time, but OL Reign held on for the victory and moved up to third in the standings.
The North Carolina Courage are second in the table and picked up another point over the weekend with a 0-0 draw on the road against the Washington Spirit. Lynn Williams played the full 90 minutes for the Courage, who are unbeaten in their last six matches, while defenders Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett went the distance for Washington in the shutout. The Spirit currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot with 23 points through 16 matches.
The Orlando Pride moved to fourth in the table with a 1-0 road win over Gotham FC on Sunday afternoon. Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris recorded three saves in the clean sheet to become the NWSL’s All-Time Leader in saves with a total of 469 in her career.
The Chicago Red Stars also bolstered their playoff position over the weekend, taking sole possession of fifth place with a 3-0 victory over Kansas City on Saturday evening. Mallory Pugh assisted the Red Star’s opening goal in the 36th minute, while Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger played the full 90 minutes in the shutout victory for Chicago.
Kansas City was also in action midweek and earned its second consecutive home win with a 2-1 victory over Racing Louisville on Wednesday evening. The victory also marked the club debut for goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, who returns to her home state after spending the last five seasons in Portland. A native of Salina, Kansas, Franch is a 2019 World Cup champion and this summer became the first Kansas-born player to represent the USA in soccer at the Olympics.
In Sunday’s late game, the Houston Dash defeated Racing Louisville, 1-0. Jane Campbell made three saves and Kristie Mewis played 81 minutes in the win as Houston remains well within playoff contention with two games in hand.
While the NWSL season is heading into the final weeks, play is just beginning in Europe, where Olympique Lyonnais kicked off the league season with a 3-0 victory over Stade de Reims. Catarina Macario started and played 59 minutes in the win. Lyon will face Spanish side Levante in the first leg of the Second Round of the UEFA Women’s Champions League on Wednesday before returning to league play over the weekend.
Information on upcoming matches featuring U.S. Women’s National Team players can be found below. All times listed are ET.
|Wednesday, September 1|
|Houston Dash vs. OL Reign||NWSL||8:00 p.m.||CBS Sports Network|
|Levante vs. Olympique Lyonnais||UEFA Champions League||3:00 p.m.||OL TV/OL Play|
|Saturday, September 4|
|NJ/NY Gotham FC vs. Chicago Red Stars||NWSL||7:00 p.m.||Paramount+|
|Racing Louisville FC vs. OL Reign||NWSL||7:30 p.m.||Paramount+|
|Portland Thorns FC vs. Washington Spirit||NWSL||10:30 p.m.||Paramount+|
|Sunday, September 5|
|Olympique Lyonnais vs. Saint-Étienne||D1 Féminine||7:00 a.m.|
|Orlando Pride vs. Houston Dash||NWSL||4:00 p.m.||CBS|
|Kansas City vs. North Carolina Courage||NWSL||7:00 p.m.||Paramount+|