By MIKE McCALL
The final week of the National Women’s Soccer League is upon us, and while there are no playoff spots up for grabs, an interesting break with the schedule still leaves room for some last-minute moves in the standings.
Kansas City, Western New York, Portland and Sky Blue FC have already clinched postseason berths, but with FCKC holding a three-point lead over the other three teams, there are chances on the table to snatch first place or home-field advantage.
Those four all play against non-playoff teams, so there will be plenty of scoreboard-watching across the league. To find out what they’ll be watching for, here’s a closer look at the matchups (all times local):
WESTERN NY FLASH vs. BOSTON BREAKERS (Saturday, 8pm on Fox Soccer Channel)
The Flash (9-4-8) have the most to gain this week. They hold tiebreakers over the other three teams, so with a win here and an FC Kansas City loss, they’d take over first place and the right to play at home.
But the Breakers (8-7-6) won’t be a pushover. They beat league-leading FCKC last week and will still want to show they’re of playoff caliber, so there’s motivation on both sides.
What’s more, the NWSL Golden Boot could be decided by this match as well. Boston’s Sydney Leroux is one off the league lead for goals, while WNY’s Abby Wambach is two off the pace.
SEATTLE REIGN vs. PORTLAND THORNS (Saturday, 8pm)
Both teams had to have hoped that this season’s first-place battle would have come down to this rivalry showdown in the finale, but Seattle’s painfully slow start was too much to overcome, even with an impressive stretch run.
Instead, this one pits the Reign (5-13-3) against the Alex Morgan-less Thorns (10-6-5) with Portland looking to snatch a home playoff game (they’ll need help) while Seattle can only hope to get in the way.
FC KANSAS CITY vs. CHICAGO RED STARS (Sunday, 3:10 pm)
It’s a simple task for FCKC (11-5-5): win or draw, and first place is theirs. It would be a deserved finish for the club, which came on a bit later in the season to become the dominant force.
On the other side, Chicago (7-8-6) is in the same boat as Boston: disappointed at missing the playoffs and looking to make a statement.
There are Golden Boot and MVP implications here as well, with FCKC forward Lauren Holiday (formerly Lauren Cheney) in first with 12 goals.
WASHINGTON SPIRIT vs. SKY BLUE FC (Sunday, 5pm)
The Spirit (3-14-4) have had a rough go of it this season, but a surprising two wins in a row have at least given them a chance to close the year with momentum.
On the other side, Sky Blue FC (10-6-5) still has an outlandish shot at first place, though it’s much more likely they are playing to host a home semifinal.
NWSL HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE SCENARIOS
All four playoff teams go up against non-playoff teams, needing the following to earn a home game in the postseason:
FC Kansas City (38 pts) has already clinched at least one home playoff game, and the club will take home first place with a win, draw or a Western New York draw or loss.
The Western NY Flash (35 pts) can snatch first place via a tiebreaker with a win and FCKC loss. They also hold the tiebreakers over the Portland Thorns (35 pts) and Sky Blue FC (35 pts), both of which need to earn more points than the Flash next week. In the event of a tie with Portland, SBFC needs to make up a deficit of one in goal differential.
Portland cannot win the league, but SBFC can in the unlikely event that they win, FCKC loses, the Flash and Thorns draw or lose, and SBFC makes up an eight-goal difference with Kansas City.
Who are your picks? Does FCKC hold the lead? Who finishes second? Will the Spirit finish on a high note?
Share your thoughts below.