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A look at what each NWSL team is still playing for

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The season is winding down and the playoffs are looming

Houston Dash v Portland Thorns FC

The 2019 NWSL regular season is almost over, and there is still some unfinished business for all nine teams.

The top three teams have already clinched playoff spots, but seeding is still up for grabs. A few teams are still in the hunt for the fourth postseason berth. Even the clubs near the bottom of the table have something to play for— even if it’s just intangibles.

Here’s a look at what each team has left to play for.

North Carolina Courage

Current position: 1st

Playoff status: Clinched

Games remaining: 2

Game this weekend: Saturday, away @ Washington

What they’re playing for: They’ve clinched both a playoff spot and the shield, but they still have two games left to play. Right now their priority is keeping players healthy.

That’s going to be tricky with a couple of USWNT games coming up; five North Carolina players were called up for the US’ pair of friendlies against Portugal about a month ago, and there’s likely to be a similar number of Courage call-ups next week against Korea Republic. They won’t have games to play that weekend, but the potential for injuries will almost certainly keep Paul Riley up at night.

If everyone can stay healthy heading into the postseason, North Carolina will be in a strong position to win back-to-back championships.

Chicago Red Stars

Current position: 2nd

Playoff status: Clinched

Games remaining: 1

Game this weekend: Saturday, home vs Utah

What they’re playing for: Heading into their last regular season game of 2019, it’s all about seeding for Chicago.

They’re almost certain to play Portland in their semifinal game, which will, bizarrely, be the first postseason clash between these two teams. The Red Stars’ regular season record against Portland isn’t great, and while having home field advantage won’t entirely tip the scales in their favor, it certainly won’t hurt.

Other than that, the key thing for the Red Stars is staying healthy. Chicago has struggled with injuries this season— though not as much as some teams, like Reign FC— and their B-teamers have had difficulties stepping up when called on. Rory Dames is going to need his marquee players fit and firing on all cylinders to have a chance of making it to the championship final.

Portland Thorns

Current position: 3rd

Playoff status: Clinched

Games remaining: 2

Game this weekend: Sunday, away @ Reign FC

What they’re playing for: They’re vying with Chicago for the coveted #2 seed. Being able to play their semifinal match at Providence Park is absolutely crucial for the Thorns.

And they’re in a better position to get it. Portland are only two points behind Chicago for 2nd place, and they’ve got a game in hand. If they win out, they’ll get that #2 seed.

But they have a somewhat tricky schedule. They’re heading up to Tacoma this weekend for a PNW rivalry clash against Reign FC, who are still fighting for a playoff spot. Their regular season finale comes two weeks later at home against Washington, who may or may not still be in playoff contention but won’t want to make things easy regardless.

Portland definitely have some work to do still, but they’ve got the tools to do it.

Reign FC

Current position: 4th

Playoff status: In contention

Games remaining: 2

Game this weekend: Sunday, home vs Portland

What they’re playing for: The field of playoff contenders has winnowed and Reign FC are one of two teams left who are still in the hunt.

They’re three points ahead of 5th place Utah with the same number of games left to go. Four points from their last two games will be enough to get them a playoff spot.

Their toughest challenge will come on Sunday when they host Cascadia rivals Portland. A draw for them would be a decent result, so long as they can then beat Orlando on October 12th. But Portland need a win, which means RFC will have a fight on their hands. If they can weather the storm and come out with a good result, it won’t just be another big step toward the postseason— it’ll be proof that they deserve to be there.

Utah Royals

Current position: 5th

Playoff status: In contention

Games remaining: 2

Game this weekend: Saturday, away @ Chicago

What they’re playing for: They’re also fighting for that fourth playoff spot, and they’re not giving up without a fight.

But it’s going to be tough. They’re three points behind Reign FC for 4th place, and with the same number of games left to play, they don’t control their own destiny. Utah will have to win out AND hope that RFC stumble.

The first game Utah will have to win will be on the road against Chicago, who are on a four-game winning streak and will need a win to have a shot at the #2 seed. If Utah pull off an upset, they’ll be in with a chance. Lose, and their season is effectively over.

Washington Spirit

Current position: 6th

Playoff status: In contention

Games remaining: 3

Game this weekend: Saturday, home vs North Carolina

What they’re playing for: They’re still in the playoff race— mathematically. Realistically, they’re probably done for the season.

The shred of hope that Washington are still clinging to lies in that extra game in hand. IF they win their remaining three games, AND RFC and Utah lose all their games, Washington will force their way above the red line. This is a disappointing turn of events for the former hottest team in the league, but soccer really be like that sometimes.

Their longshot sprint to the playoffs begins tomorrow at home against... the defending champions. Oof.

Even if they can’t pull off the impossible, Washington have a lot of good takeaways from the 2019 season. There’s enough there to build on for 2020 and beyond. They may miss out on the postseason this year, but they’ll still want to give the fans something to cheer about— and to look forward to next year.

Houston Dash

Current position: 7th

Playoff status: Eliminated

Games remaining: 1

Game this weekend: Bye

What they’re playing for: Dignity. A sense of identity. Something, anything, really.

Houston aren’t presently built for playoff contention, but they’ve got a little too much talent to finish this low in the table. It’s unclear why the Dash struggle as much as they do, but it’s clear that the on-field personnel can only shoulder so much of the blame.

If Houston want to meaningfully compete in this league, the organization is going to have to ask itself some difficult questions in the offseason. Whether or not they’re up for that is anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, they’ve got a couple of weeks to rest up before their regular season finale in Utah.

Sky Blue FC

Current position: 8th

Playoff status: Eliminated

Games remaining: 2

Game this weekend: Sunday, home vs Orlando

What they’re playing for: Hope.

Despite finishing near the bottom of the table for yet another season, Sky Blue have plenty of reasons for optimism. The arrival of Alyse LaHue as GM has sparked a turnaround for an organization that was coming really close to needing an intervention. Sky Blue have big dreams for the future combined with a clear-eyed look at what needs to happen now. Given the past few years, that alone is a huge improvement.

After the raving success of their post-World Cup game at Red Bull Arena, Sky Blue are putting on an encore in Harrison for their home finale against Orlando. It’s a fitting endcap for a season that’s seen a lot of growth off the pitch— and planted seeds for improvements on it.

In the meantime, Sky Blue will be looking to put on a show at RBA on Sunday and secure a win, which would guarantee that they would finish above last place.

Orlando Pride

Current position: 9th

Playoff status: Eliminated

Games remaining: 3

Game this weekend: Sunday, away vs Sky Blue

What they’re playing for: A sense of purpose.

This is a team that has Alex Morgan and Marta and is still, somehow, almost certainly going to finish bottom of the table with less than 20 points. Not to be hyperbolic, but someone should really go to jail for that.

Assuming that fielding a winning team is a priority for Orlando— and it’s not entirely clear that it is— the club has to rebuild, and they’re going to have to start now. The best thing they can do this offseason is allow Marta a graceful exit, trade Morgan for some young and talented squad players, and build out a solid three-year plan to get them at least close to playoff contention.

But the first step toward getting better is admitting you have a problem. Is the Pride front office and technical staff ready to do that? We’ll see.

In the meantime, it’s Play Your Kids Szn. Give the B-teamers a run out, see who’s worth keeping, and use the last three games to start imagining a future without Morgan and Marta.