By MIKE McCALL
This weekend brought a lot of opportunity for the three teams on the outside of the National Women’s Soccer League playoff race. But after four games in two days, only one of those three teams was able to take advantage.
And with less than a month to go, the playoff window is closing and it’s looking more and more like the top four will stay the top four. From Portland to Kansas City to Western New York, this was a weekend for the favorites.
For a closer look, here’s a complete rundown along with our updated Power Rankings.
OWN GOAL SINKS SPIRIT
Chicago, the aforementioned lone team to keep pace in the playoff race, did so in far-from-impressive fashion. The Red Stars took down the Washington Spirit 1-0, topping the league’s worst team thanks to an own goal.
In the 55th minute, The Red Stars’ Inka Grings played in a ball that deflected off the Spirit’s Tiffany McCarty and into the net. Still, the result was justified by virtue of the shot distribution: 21 for the Red Stars against four for the Spirit.
With the win, Chicago moved into fifth place, five points behind the Flash with a game in hand.
FCKC HALTS REIGN’S MOMENTUM
FC Kansas City might have spoiled the league’s most interesting storyline here, knocking off Seattle in a 2-0 home win that snapped the Reign’s six-game unbeaten streak and seriously injured their already improbable playoff chances.
Erika Tymrak and Lauren Holiday provided the goals for FCKC, who out-shot Seattle 10-5. Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe didn’t manage a single shot in her 90 minutes, and the team only put one shot on goal — by defender Jessica McDonald.
Reign forward Renae Cuellar wasn’t able to get anything going against her former team either, and FCKC made a strong statement that leaves the squad just two points out of first place.
FLASH CRUSH SBFC
While most of the weekend’s results seemed to lessen the drama of the league’s journey down the home stretch, this one delivered some intrigue.
The Western New York Flash made this a three (and possibly four) way battle for first place by burying the top team, Sky Blue FC, 3-0.
Samantha Kerr, Carli Lloyd and Sarah Huffman each scored for the Flash, while Abby Wambach notched two assists. It was a big win for Western New York to put some distance between itself and the weekend’s losers, and as a result, Portland now sits a point out of first with a game in hand, while FCKC is just two back.
And for the Flash, they can rest easier being closer to first place (four points) than fifth (five).
MORGAN, THORNS INCH NEARER TO FIRST
SBFC’s stranglehold on first place has been perhaps the surprise of the season, and Portland moved one step closer to erasing that with a 2-1 win over Boston on Sunday.
Lianne Sanderson gave the home team hope with a 13th-minute goal, but Alex Morgan responded in the 23rd and Meleana Shim dished out the knockout blow in the 86th to put the Thorns within striking distance of first place.
The Thorns did well to keep Sydney Leroux (three shots, two on goal) off the scoresheet, while Portland’s Tobin Heath registered a shot on goal and 11 corner kicks.
SBI NWSL POWER RANKINGS
Here’s how they stand:
1. FC Kansas City (8-4-5, 29 pts) – They stopped the Reign in their tracks and are in great shape for a strong finish. | (Last week: 4)
2. Western NY Flash (7-4-6, 27 pts) – Thrashing the league leaders is always a nice way to spend the weekend. | (6)
3. Portland Thorns FC (9-4-3, 30 pts) – Signs of life via a road win against a good Boston team. First place is there for the taking. | (7)
4. Seattle Reign FC (4-10-3, 15 pts) – One slip-up doesn’t completely wreck them in these rankings, but it might have done in their playoff hopes. | (1)
5. Chicago Red Stars (6-6-4, 22 pts) – Still holding out hope for a top-four finish. | (5)
6. Boston Breakers (5-6-5, 20 pts) – The Breakers can’t afford to drop many more points. | (3)
7. Sky Blue FC (9-4-4, 31 pts) – SBFC could very well end the postseason in first and as playoff underdogs. | (2)
8. Washington Spirit (1-11-4, 7 pts) – Losing on an own goal is bad, but not as bad as it could have been. | (8)
What do you think? Does Seattle’s slip-up mean the Reign are toast? Do you see Portland taking over first place? Can anyone crack the top four?
Share your thoughts below.