By MIKE McCALL
If late drama and parity are key qualities by which to measure a league, the inaugural season of the National Women’s Soccer League has to go down as a major success.
Three teams finished tied for first place, with the championship being decided by a pair of memorable goals: a ridiculous header by Western New York Flash forward Abby Wambach, and a stoppage-time shocker that sunk previous leaders FC Kansas City.
For a closer look, here’s a complete rundown along with the playoff matchups for next week:
FLASH CONTINUE DOMINANCE
Four seasons, four different leagues, four titles for the Western New York Flash.
This one came thanks to a 2-1 win over the Boston Breakers and some help from the Chicago Red Stars against FCKC, with Samantha Kerr opening the scoring in the 23rd minute and Wambach extending the lead with an absurd redirection in the 28th. Rhian Wilkinson pulled one back for Boston, but it wasn’t enough to keep WNY from getting the three points it had to have.
Thanks to the victory and FCKC loss, the Flash finished in a three-way tie for first but held tiebreakers thanks to a superior head-to-head record and the league’s best goal differential.
And so the dynastic franchise of women’s professional soccer continues its run, although the Flash will need to take the playoff title to truly claim dominance.
NO MORGAN, NO PROBLEM FOR THORNS
The Portland Thorns didn’t trounce the competition as was expected this season, but finishing tied for first is at least tough to argue with.
Forward Alex Morgan’s knee injury kept her sidelined, but the club’s other star came up big, as Christine Sinclair scored in each half to hand Portland a 2-1 win over the rival Seattle Reign, whose goal came via the USWNT’s Megan Rapinoe.
That allowed the Thorns to keep pace with the Flash and FCKC atop the table, although not enough to earn a home playoff game. Now the question is whether Morgan will be healthy in time to contribute fully during the short, two-week postseason.
CHICAGO STUNS FCKC
During stoppage time in the second half, everyone in Shawnee Mission District Stadium was preparing for the inevitable: a league title for hometown FC Kansas City. All they needed was a draw to claim the crown, and at 1-1 thanks to a goal from Courtney Jones, they were seemingly there.
But in the 92nd minute, Chicago Red Stars midfielder Jen Hoy scored her second goal of the day to hand Kansas City a crushing 2-1 defeat and leave it tantalizingly close to a championship that had once looked like a sure thing.
After a 10-game unbeaten streak, FCKC lost its last two games of the season — both to non-playoff teams — to complete what can only be described as a collapse. The good news is that they’ll start the playoffs at home, and Golden Boot winner Lauren Holiday still has a chance to power her club to a trophy.
SBFC DRAWS, FINISHES FOURTH
Had the final result of the weekend gone as predicted, there would have been a four-way tie for first. Instead, Sky Blue FC could only manage a 1-1 draw with last-place Washington, finishing two points off the pace.
Stephanie Ochs gave the Spirit a lead in the first half, and SBFC’s Taylor Lytle equalized in the 84th minute to deny Washington what would have been a very impressive close to the season. The Spirit corrected their tailspin at the very end of the year, taking seven points from their last three matches.
NWSL SEMIFINAL MATCHUPS
FC Kansas City (2) vs. Portland Thorns (3) | Saturday, 1pm
Western New York Flash (1) vs. Sky Blue FC (4) | Saturday, 8pm
(home teams in bold)
What did you think of the inaugural regular season? Surprised FCKC didn’t close? Did you expect Wambach and the Flash to come out on top? Who’s your favorite going into the playoffs?
Share your thoughts below.