The NWSL Playoffs: What You Need to Know

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By MC Bousquette

Staff Writer

The NWSL is in its third year and, as the league and women’s sport continue to grow, so does the level of competition and the nation’s focus on it. That’s why you can (and should!) catch the NWSL playoffs live on Fox Sports 1.

When are the playoffs, and who made it?

The NWSL playoffs begin this Sunday, September 13th, with the semifinal matches. The finals will be held on Thursday, October 1st, at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.

The first match is at 1:30pm EST, and features the second-seeded Chicago Red Stars and the third-seeded reigning NWSL champions FC Kansas City. Chicago will play host, as the two face off at Toyota Park, in Bridgeview, IL.

The second will kick off at 9:30pm EST as the 2015 NWSL Shield Winners and top seeded Seattle Reign FC take on the fourth-seeded Washington Spirit at Memorial Stadium in Seattle, WA.

I’m new to NWSL, but watched the USWNT in the World Cup- who do I know on these teams?

You absolutely will recognize these players, even if the only women’s soccer you follow is the US Women’s National Team.

Seattle Reign FC has a very famous goalkeeper- none other than the USWNT’s Hope Solo. Solo won the Golden Glove award at this summer’s World Cup, and is back in form after recovering from a knee injury. The Reign also has the intrepid Megan Rapinoe, who, while she is a USWNT midfielder, plays up top for Seattle. Rapinoe is second in assists in the NWSL with five.

The Chicago Red Stars have several USWNT players, including Christen Press, who is tied for second in the NWSL in goal scored with ten this season. Julie Johnston is a major part of Chicago’s defense-  the centerback has been just as strong a contributor up and down the field for the Red Stars as she was in the World Cup, where she was later nominated to FIFA’s Women’s World Cup All Star team. Chicago also has Lori Chalupny in the midfield, who scored her first game back from the World Cup. Chalupny will retire from professional soccer after this season.

FC Kansas City has a host of USWNT members. Up top are strikers Lauren Holiday, who is retiring after this season, and Amy Rodriguez, known as A-Rod to many, who scored two goals against Sky Blue FC last week. In midfield, FCKC has Heather O’Reilly, who has recorded four goals in two matches during the USWNT’s victory tour. And last, but certainly not least, Kansas City has one of the best centerbacks in USWNT history, Becky Sauerbrunn. 

The Washington Spirit has USWNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who has 47 saves this season, even with her absence during the World Cup. Also on the Spirit’s squad is the USWNT’s right back Ali Krieger, who has played in the midfield for the Spirit since returning from the World Cup. That said, Krieger will not be present on Sunday, as she will be attending her father’s wedding.

So, aside from the USWNT players, who should I know?

Seattle has on their side the deft Scot, Kim Little, who is prone to scoring beautiful goals. She’s presently tied for the second most goals in the NWSL, with ten this season, and also leads the league with seven assists. For instance, here she is finishing a hat trick against the Houston Dash on August 12th:

Seattle also have the Welsh midfielder Jess Fishlock, who does considerable damage on offense herself- she has eight goals this season, and is lightning fast. Perhaps the most exciting return to the side is Beverly Yanez, who has nine goals this season, and is likely to return from injury to take her spot back at striker.

FC Kansas City has a number of experienced players who played for the USWNT in the past, and are key parts of the FCKC lineup. In goal, Nicole Barnhart has 54 saves this season and is an important leader for Kansas City’s defense.  Leigh Ann Robinson and Becca Moros are two of the absolute best defenders in the league, and further strengthen FCKC’s back line.

Chicago has a pair of rookies of whom you should absolutely take note- midfielder Danielle Colaprico, who is a finalist for 2015 NWSL Rookie of the Year, and striker Sofia Huerta, who is a probable for Sunday’s match as she comes back from injury. These are big names to remember not only for this tournament but also the future of international soccer as the two of them continue to develop.

Last, but certainly not least, the Washington Spirit has Crystal Dunn. Dunn is likely to win 2015 NWSL Player of the Year, as she leads the league with fifteen goals. She won this season’s WSL Golden Boot, and is capable of giving the Seattle defense a run for their money. Dunn was cut from the USWNT’s 2015 World Cup roster, but will appear with the team in the upcoming friendly matches against Haiti. That’s probably because she spent the summer proving why she belongs on the team with moments like these:

So… who’s going to win on Sunday?

FC Kansas City and Chicago are very well matched, and both come into the playoffs healthy and on a roll. Chicago host the defending champions, and will seek to damage the nearly ironclad FCKC defense while Kansas City tries to do the same. It’s tough to call either side a favorite in this one.

Seattle has never lost a game at home, so the Washington Spirit will have to hit the ground running at Memorial Stadium. The two sides faced off last Saturday in a Spirit home match, and the Reign won 2-1. Fishlock and Rapinoe scored last week, while Washington recorded only one off a penalty kick from powerful midfielder Diana Matheson of the Canadian WNT. The Reign are favored with the combination of home field advantage and their offensive strength, especially with the Spirit missing Krieger. That said, the Spirit have Dunn on their side- she could well lift Washington to victory.

The Bottom Line

No matter the victor, both of these matches will be filled with fantastic play and talent, both young and veteran. And with both broadcast on Fox Sports 1, it’s much easier than usual to watch this world class competition with the production quality it deserves.


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