NWSL playoffs begin this weekend, with the Washington Spirit taking on the Chicago Red Stars on Friday, September 30 and the Portland Thorns playing the Western New York Flash on Sunday, October 2. These are two pretty solid matchups, even if the Flash sort of squeaked into the top four when their season came down to the last possible game. No one was calling for the Flash to even be in the playoffs at the start of the season, and for them to prove everyone wrong must be gratifying.
As for the other three teams, they’ve all had pretty sturdy seasons, Portland and Washington especially. Portland has turned it around after lackluster seasons under Paul Riley (yes, current WNY Flash head coach Paul Riley) and really bloomed into an exciting, watchable team. And Washington has basically been the epitome of steady competence, handful of losses notwithstanding. Meanwhile, Chicago has assembled a roster that can stand to lose someone like Christen Press and be just fine; they’ve got several under-the-radar players who should all be sniffing at the WNT player pool, like Vanessa DiBernardo and Dani Colaprico.
- Portland Thorns: 41 points, 12-3-5, 35 GF, 19 GA
- Washington Spirit: 39 points, 12-5-3, 30 GF, 21 GA
- Chicago Red Stars: 33 points, 9-5-6, 24 GF, 20 GA
- Western New York Flash: 32 points, 9-6-5, 40 GF, 26 GA
Washington Spirit vs Chicago Red Stars: Friday, September 30, 8 PM ET, Maryland SoccerPlex
Portland Thorns vs WNY Flash: Sunday, October 2, 5 PM ET, Providence Park
WNT players to watch
Portland Thorns: The obvious answer here is Tobin Heath, and it’s obvious for a reason. Heath has become a major lynchpin in Portland’s attack and much depends on her managing her connections with Christine Sinclair, Lindsey Horan, and Nadia Nadim, as well as Meghan Klingenberg and Allie Long. Also Heath did this in the last NWSL championship she played in - coincidentally, against the WNY Flash.
WNY Flash: WNY currently only has one recent WNT player on their team, Sam Mewis, but she also happens to be quite important to them. For all that she’s only 23, the team was still partially built around her, and she has a good ability to hold the tempo in the midfield while also pushing into the box to create danger and has four goals on the season to show for it.
Washington Spirit: You might be tempted to say Crystal Dunn here, but Ali Krieger has quietly racked up some important minutes for Washington despite her Olympic absence. Dunn definitely drives a huge chunk of the Washington attack but against Chicago’s midfield, a tighter defense here could win the day. Krieger also has a good connection with Dunn and can put in a very nice cross.
Chicago Red Stars: As she has been so many times before, Alyssa Naeher could end up being the team’s saving grace. The difference being for Chicago she may only have to make one or two big saves as opposed to the half dozen she regularly needed to pull out for her previous team, Boston.