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OCT 27
3:30 PM ET
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Playoff Picture: Anything can happen
Six teams are fighting for the final three playoff spots
The Thorns and Pride will meet on Saturday in Week 20. (Photo credit: Al Sermeno/isiphotos.com)
The Thorns and Pride will meet on Saturday in Week 20. (Photo credit: Al Sermeno/isiphotos.com)

With just a month left in the NWSL regular season, six teams are fighting for three playoff spots — and the standings are so close that the final three playoff spots seem likely to come down to the final weeks of the season.

Every game counts,” Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch said last week. “[We’ll] continue to take it game by game and hopefully point by point — or three points by three points!”

Franch and other NWSL players from Australia, Brazil, Japan and the United States spoke during the Tournament of Nations in East Hartford, Connecticut, and Bridgeview, Illinois, while the NWSL was on an international break.

Even though we are in second place now, it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t give you any promises,” Seattle Reign FC forward Nahomi Kawasumi said through a translator.

The Reign (9-4-6, 33 points) have been in second place for a good portion of the season, but their lead is just a slim three points. Right behind them are the Pride (30 points), Thorns (29 points), Red Stars (28 points), Utah Royals FC (28 points) and the Dash (23 points).

With so many teams in the hunt for the final spots, they’re spending the final quarter of the regular season playing each other in sort of a month-long, play-in tournament ahead of the playoffs. In Week 19, the first four games following the international break showed how close the end of the season could be.

The Reign won at home, but the next two teams in the standings lost. The Thorns fell on the road to the Courage, and the Pride endured a tough home draw with Sky Blue FC. Utah helped themselves keep close in the playoff race with a late comeback win over Houston on Sunday night.

Utah then kicked off Week 20 on Wednesday night with another late win, this time over Washington, and pulled themselves even closer.

“It won’t be easy because everybody has [a chance],” Pride defender Mônica said through a translator. “Everybody has quality.”

One team absent from the Week 19 drama was Chicago. The Red Stars are in fifth place and — thanks to a unique schedule and a postponed game — will have not played a game in 27 days when they take the field against the Courage on Friday night. Then, it’s five more games — four on the road and the rescheduled game vs. Sky Blue FC at home.

“It’s gonna be tough. We have four away games,”  Red Stars forward Sam Kerr said. “And they’re not easy teams too. Portland, Utah, Orlando [and Seattle]. So they’re not easy, but that’s life. And we kinda take that as a jab, so we’re going in really, really motivated.”

Meanwhile, the team at the top of the table, the North Carolina Courage (15-1-4), are 16 points clear of everyone else, already have the NWSL Shield locked up and can spend the next month preparing for their home playoff game — as well as chasing a few NWSL records.

You can definitely tell that we’ve been working hard in North Carolina and it’s definitely paying off and it’s been great. Hopefully, we can just keep up the good work and do well,” Courage defender Abby Dahlkemper said.

The Courage can also play spoiler to a few teams with playoff hopes. North Carolina has four games left this season, all against teams in the playoff race — Red Stars, Pride, Reign and Dash. None of those teams has managed a win against the Courage this season and only two have even earned a point.

After saying she was rooting for the Courage in the ICC tournament vs. Lyon (which the Courage won), Thorns defender Emily Sonnett said her Courage fandom will continue through the rest of the regular season: “I want them to steal points too, baby! Let the Courage steal the points!”

And it’s not just the Courage who can play spoiler — the two teams eliminated from playoff contention, Sky Blue FC and the Washington Spirit, can also cause havoc.

Just this past weekend, Sky Blue escaped with a dramatic road draw vs. the Pride after Kailen Sheridan saved Marta’s penalty in the 97th minute. With the Pride having just four games remaining — and everyone else in the hunt having five or six remaining — they needed all three points to help solidify third place in the NWSL standings. But Sky Blue FC would not let that happen.

The fun is just beginning.

North Carolina just sort of ran off it with it, haven’t they? But, besides that, it’s very, very tight and I think this year it’s closer than ever before and I think it’s really going to come down to the last couple of games,” Caitlin Foord said ahead of her 2018 NWSL debut with the Thorns last weekend. “It’s very competitive and that’s exciting for the league. It’s awesome that it is like that. Hopefully, one of those spots are ours.”

 

Here’s a look at where each team sits in the NWSL standings and their remaining schedule:

 

1. NORTH CAROLINA COURAGE

15-1-4, 49 pts

Goal Differential: +28

Games Remaining: 4

Max Points Possible: 61

Clinched the NWSL Shield

 

Remaining schedule:

  • Fri., Aug. 10: at Chicago Red Stars
  • Sat., Aug. 18: vs. Orlando Pride
  • Sat., Aug. 25: at Seattle Reign FC
  • Sat., Sept. 8: vs. Houston Dash

 


2. SEATTLE REIGN FC

9-4-6, 33 pts

Goal Differential: +7

Games Remaining: 5

Max Points Possible: 48

 

Remaining schedule:

  • Sat., Aug. 11: at Utah Royals FC
  • Wed., Aug. 15: vs. Chicago Red Stars
  • Tue., Aug. 21: vs. Houston Dash
  • Sat., Aug. 25: vs. North Carolina Courage
  • Fri., Sept. 7: at Portland Thorns FC

 


3. ORLANDO PRIDE

8-6-6, 30 pts

Goal Differential: +1

Games Remaining: 4

Max Points Possible: 42

 

Remaining schedule:

  • Sat., Aug. 11: vs. Portland Thorns FC
  • Sat., Aug. 18: at North Carolina Courage
  • Sat., Aug. 25: vs. Chicago Red Stars
  • Sat., Sept. 8: at Sky Blue FC

 


4. PORTLAND THORNS FC

8-6-5, 29 pts

Goal Differential: +6

Games Remaining: 5

Max Points Possible: 44

 

Remaining schedule:

  • Sat., Aug. 11: at Orlando Pride
  • Sat., Aug. 18: vs. Chicago Red Stars
  • Wed., Aug. 22: vs. Sky Blue FC
  • Sat., Aug. 25: at Washington Spirit
  • Fri., Sept. 7: vs. Seattle Reign FC

5. CHICAGO RED STARS

7-4-7, 28 pts

Goal Differential: +4

Games Remaining: 6

Max Points Possible: 46

 

Remaining schedule:

  • Fri., Aug. 10: vs. North Carolina Courage
  • Wed., Aug. 15: at Seattle Reign FC
  • Sat., Aug. 18: at Portland Thorns FC
  • Sat., Aug. 25: at Orlando Pride
  • Tue., Sept. 4: vs. Sky Blue FC
  • Sat., Sept. 8: at Utah Royals FC

 


6. UTAH ROYALS FC

7-6-7, 28 pts

Goal Differential: -2

Games Remaining: 4

Max Points Possible: 40

 

Remaining schedule:

  • Sat., Aug. 11: vs. Seattle Reign FC
  • Sat., Aug. 18: at Sky Blue FC
  • Wed., Aug. 22: at Washington Spirit
  • Sat., Sept. 8: vs. Chicago Red Stars

 


7. HOUSTON DASH

6-8-5, 23 pts

Goal Differential: -7

Games Remaining: 5

Max Points Possible: 38

 

Remaining schedule:

  • Sat., Aug. 11: at Sky Blue FC
  • Fri., Aug. 17: vs. Washington Spirit
  • Tue., Aug. 21: at Seattle Reign FC
  • Sat., Aug. 25: vs. Sky Blue FC
  • Sat., Sept. 8: at North Carolina Courage

8. WASHINGTON SPIRIT

2-14-4, 10 pts

Goal Differential: -17

Games Remaining: 4

Max Points Possible: 22

Eliminated from playoff contention

 

Remaining schedule:

  • Fri., Aug. 17: at Houston Dash
  • Wed., Aug. 22: vs. Utah Royals FC
  • Sat., Aug. 25: vs. Portland Thorns FC
  • Sat., Sept. 1: vs. Sky Blue FC

 


9. SKY BLUE FC

0-13-4, 4 pts

Goal Differential: -20

Games Remaining: 7

Max Points Possible: 25

Eliminated from playoff contention

 

Remaining schedule:

  • Sat., Aug. 11: vs. Houston Dash
  • Sat., Aug. 18: vs. Utah Royals FC
  • Wed., Aug. 22: at Portland Thorns FC
  • Sat., Aug. 25: at Houston Dash
  • Sat., Sept. 1: at Washington Spirit
  • Tue. Sept. 4: at Chicago Red Stars
  • Sat., Sept. 8: vs. Orlando Pride
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