NWSL Week 19 Preview: Playoff spots could all be clinched by Sunday night

kim little

by TOM SLATER

The Washington Spirit (12-3-3, 39 points) can claim the Supporters Shield for themselves as well as deal a death blow to Seattle (6-6-6, 24 points) when the two teams meet Sunday night in Memorial Stadium.

This match highlights the Week 19 fixtures in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

The two teams met Wednesday with the Spirit winning, 2-1, to clinch a home berth in the semifinals. Crystal Dunn scored her first NWSL goal of the year in that win, but the match was highlighted by off-the-field events:

  • The Spirit management, afraid of Megan Rapinoe kneeling for the national anthem, played it while both teams were in the locker room. After the game, Lynch released a statement saying the team didn’t want anything to “hijack” their respect for veterans.
  • Post-game, Rapinoe blasted Washington’s owner Bill Lynch for the use of the word hijack and eventually accused him of being homophobic.
  • Lynch responded saying he wasn’t homophobic and stood by his decision.
  • The Spirit players released a statement Friday saying they didn’t agree with their owner and respected everyone’s right to express themselves.

Got all that?

The national anthem for Sunday’s game has turned into must-see TV.

On the field, Dunn scored her first goal of the season to go along with five assists and forward Cheyna Williams notched her second game-winning goal of the year for the Spirit.

Seattle midfielder Kim Little netted the lone goal for her team from the penalty spot, while Reign goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer made six saves in the match as their opponents wrapped up home-field advantage in the NWSL semifinals.

Seattle will begin Sunday with an elimination number of two and could find themselves locked out of the postseason regardless of their result against the Spirit. While the Reign will be knocked out of playoff contention if they fail to beat Washington, Seattle will also be mathematically eliminated from the postseason if both the Chicago Red Stars and Western New York Flash avoid defeat Sunday.

If the Reign are to take the playoff race to the final game of the season they will need to extend their NWSL-record scoring streak at home as they have tallied a goal in each of their last 16 matches at Memorial Stadium.

In other matches:

Sunday, Sept. 11

Chicago Red Stars at FC Kansas City: In Wednesday’s meetings, FC Kansas City (6-8-4, 22 points) pulled out a 3-2 victory  over Chicago (8-5-5, 29 points) — the first time the Blue have won consecutive matches all year.

Shea Groom scored a pair of goals and Franseca Silva one to pace FC Kansas City. Groom now has eight goals and is second behind Lynn Williams of Western New York and Kealia Ohai of Houston.

Despite the loss, Chicago inched closer to wrapping up a spot in the 2016 NWSL Playoffs thanks to Seattle Reign FC’s loss to the Spirit on the same night. Christen Press and forward Sophia Huerta scored for Chicago in the loss on Wednesday as both players found the back of the net for the third consecutive game. Press now boasts seven goals in just 12 appearances in 2016, while Huerta comes into the contest having matched the six goals she tallied last year during her rookie campaign.

Coach Rory Dames and his players come into the contest Sunday with a magic number of two – and will clinch a postseason berth with a win or a draw against FCKC or if the Reign fail to win against Washington.

FC Kansas City was eliminated from playoff contention when Western New York drew with Boston.

Boston Breakers at Houston Dash: Boston (3-13-2, 11 points) is coming off an impressive performance in a 2-2 draw with Western New York earlier in the week. The Breakers will need to keep it up if they want to avoid a record of NWSL futility.

Boston comes into the match guaranteed to finish in last place for the second consecutive season – but still looking to avoid setting a new NWSL record for fewest points per game. The 2015 Breakers and the 2014 Dash hold the current mark as both sides claimed just 0.75 PPG in respective seasons.

Beard and his players will need a win and a draw in their final two games if they are to even match that performance this year. A loss Sunday would see Boston guaranteed to set a new league low in that category.

Meanwhile, Houston (5-9-4, 19 points) will be looking to bounce back from a 3-0 road loss to Portland Thorns FC on Wednesday. It was the eighth time this season coach Randy Waldrum’s side were shutout – tied with the Breakers and FC Kansas City for most in the league.

Despite that statistic, the Dash have shown a better effort on the offensive side of the ball in the second half of the season – as the clean sheet represented the only time in the last eight games in which Houston were held off the scoreboard.

Waldrum and his squad play both of their remaining games this season at home and will be looking for an improved performance in front of their own fans as they carry the league’s No. 7 home record into the match.

Western New York at Portland Thorns:  The Thorns (10-3-5, 35 points) wrapped up their own postseason berth Wednesday when Seattle Reign FC lost to the Washington Spirit, but Portland still would have secured their place in the playoffs with a 3-0 home victory over the Houston Dash behind two goals from Allie Long and another from forward Christine Sinclair. Goalkeeper Michelle Betos made two saves in the match as the Thorns won for the third time in their last four games.

The Flash (8-5-5, 29 points) can clinch a playoff spot with a win or draw against Portland. Even with a loss, they can clinch is Seattle falls to Washington later Sunday night.

Western New York will also take the field at Providence Park looking to snap a club-record six-game winless run after a 2-2 draw against the Boston Breakers on Wednesday – with forward Jessica McDonald recording her eighth goal of the year and Williams her ninth. The draw was the fifth during that six-match run – and the fourth in a row for the Flash to tie a league record held by Sky Blue FC for the most consecutive draws.