Soccer

NWSL playoff picture, standings, tiebreakers: Portland Thorns become first team to clinch playoff berth

The 2022 NWSL regular season is nearly over as teams begin to enter the final stretch of the schedule. The playoff picture continues to shift with only two weeks remaining as the campaign winds down. Portland Thorns FC are the only club with a playoff spot cemented after midweek action, but several teams remain in contention for the NWSL Shield — awarded to the team with the best regular season record — while other clubs are eyeing a playoff push. The next chapter of the story will be written this weekend as NWSL action continues and you can catch the matches on Paramount+

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The top six teams will head to the playoffs, with the first and second seeds earning a first-round bye to the semifinals as hosts. The third and fourth seeds will host the fifth and sixth seed in a quarterfinal round, where the winners will compete in the semifinals for a spot in the 2022 NWSL Championship final. 

Let’s take a look at the standings after the latest weekend of action, possible playoff scenarios, and which teams are on the brink of elimination:

League standings

1. Portland Thorns FC (35 pts) — Playoffs clinched

2. San Diego Wave FC (34 pts) — Playoff position

3. OL Reign (34 pts) — Playoff position

4. Houston Dash (33 pts) — Playoff position

5.Kansas City Current (33 pts) — Playoff position

6. Chicago Red Stars (30 pts) — Playoff position

7. Angel City FC (29 pts) — Outside looking in

8. North Carolina Courage (28 pts) — Outside looking in

9. Orlando Pride (21 pts) — Eliminated

10.  Washington Spirit (19 pts) — Eliminated

11. Racing Louisville FC (17 pts) — Eliminated

12. NJ/NY Gotham FC (12 pts) — Eliminated

Playoff tiebreakers

Tiebreakers are decided first by greater goal difference across regular season, then most total wins, then most goals scored. There are a possible seven tiebreaker scenarios for teams, and as listed in order

  1. Greater goal difference across the entire regular season (against all teams, not just tied teams).
  2. Most total wins across the entire regular season (against all teams, not just tied teams).
  3. Most goals scored across the entire regular season (against all teams, not just tied teams).
  4. Head-to-head results (total points) between the tied teams.
  5. Head-to-head most goals scored between the tied teams.
  6. Least disciplinary points accumulated across the entire regular season (against all teams, not just tied teams).
  7. Coin flip (if two teams are tied) or drawing of lots (if three or more teams are tied).

Viewing info

The regular season will have two midweek matches this week ahead of a full slate of games over the weekend. Take a look at how to watch the matches this week:

Wednesday, September 21

  • NJ/NY Gotham FC 0, OL Reign 1
  • Orlando Pride 0, North Carolina Courage 3
  • Portland Thorns FC 3, Racing Louisville FC 0
  • Angel City FC 2, Washington Spirit 1

Saturday, September 24

  • North Carolina Courage vs. NJ/NY Gotham FC, 7:30 p.m. ET  (Paramount+)
  • Houston Dash vs. OL Reign, 8:30 p.m. ET (Twitch)

Sunday, September 25

  • Portland Thorns FC vs. Chicago Red Stars, 4 p.m. ET  (Paramount+)
  • Kansas City Current vs. Washington Spirit, 5 p.m. ET  (Paramount+)
  • Orlando Pride vs. San Diego Wave FC, 7 p.m. (Paramount+)

Possible playoff matchups

Here’s a final look at the playoff picture as the season continues this weekend:

  • No. 1 Portland Thorns FC – bye to semifinal
  • No. 2 San Diego Wave FC vs. bye to semifinal
  • No. 3 OL Reign vs. No. 6 Chicago Red Stars 
  • No. 4 Houston Dash vs. No. 5 Kansas City Current

Thorns clinch playoff spot

1. Portland Thorns FC (35 points: 9-3-8) 

  • Possible first-round matchup: Would earn a bye to semifinal and host quarterfinal winner at Providence Park.

The Thorns are the first team to clinch their spot in the postseason this season. They head to the NWSL playoffs for the ninth time in their franchise history and for the sixth straight time. Forward Sophia Smith broke her four-game scouring drought during Portland’s 3-0 win against Louisville and is now three goals behind Alex Morgan in the golden boot race. 

San Diego Wave sitting in second

2. San Diego Wave FC (34 points: 10-6-4)

  • Possible first-round matchup: Would earn bye to semifinal and host quarterfinal winner at Snapdragon Stadium.

No matter the finish, the Wave have made history all season long during their inaugural year in NWSL. The club have a chance at first place once more when they face Orlando Pride on the road after a narrow 1-0 win against California rivals Angel City FC in front of a record-breaking crowd of 32,000. The record was set for the largest attendance at a regular season NWSL match. 

OL Reign jump into third place

3. OL Reign (34 points: 9-4-7) 

  • Possible first-round matchup: vs. 6 Chicago Red Stars
  • Tiebreakers: OL Reign is level with San Diego on total points, but the first tiebreaker of greater goal difference across the entire regular season (against all teams, not just tied teams) keeps them in third.

OL Reign have broke through into the top three after hovering around fifth place for months. The team have had some strong individual performances from Rose Lavelle and Megan Rapinoe during the final month of the regular season, and they’ll have a chance to pick up points with two matches this week.

Houston dip into fourth place

4. Houston Dash (33 points: 9-5-6) 

  • Possible first-round matchup: vs. No. 5 Kansas City Current

The Dash picked up a big win against Chicago Red Stars, winning 1-0 on the road. Forward Ebony Salmon had the lone goal, as she scored her ninth of the season. The club will have another challenge against fifth-place OL Reign on Saturday.

Kansas City slip to fifth

5. Kansas City Current (33 points: 9-5-6) 

  • Possible first-round matchup: vs. No. 4 Houston Dash
  • Tiebreakers: Kansas City is level with Houston on total points, but the first tiebreaker of greater goal difference across the entire regular season (against all teams, not just tied teams) keeps them in fifth.

The Current remain in contention for both the number one seed and the 2022 NWSL Shield and are looking to get back into the win column after a loss and draw last week. Goalkeeper Adriana Franch is having an MVP-caliber season for the team and will need to continue her form against Washington Spirit’s Ashley Hatch, Ashley Sanchez, and Trinity Rodman on Sunday.

Red Stars hanging onto final playoff spot

6. Chicago Red Stars (30 points: 8-8-6) 

  • Potential first-round matchup: vs. No. 3 Kansas City Current

The Red Stars are still hanging onto the sixth and final playoff spot for the playoffs, but they have managed to get some separation in the standings by earning results against OL Reign and Kansas City recently. After a 1-0 loss against Houston, four points now separate them from seventh-place Angel City, but the Red Stars tough late-season schedule continues against other playoff-bound teams as the club will now face Portland on Sunday.

Angel City FC, North Carolina Courage in playoff hunt

7. Angel City FC (29 points: 8-7-5)

  • Playoff perspective: one spot away from a final playoff slot, one points out of sixth place, with the Red Stars holding the first tie-breaker for goal differential across the regular season.

The team is winless in their last three games, and coming off two consecutive losses. They’ve bounced back in a big way after a 2-1 win against Washington Spirit. 

8. North Carolina Courage (28 points: 8-8-4)

  • Playoff perspective: two spots away from a final playoff spot, two points out from a possible sixth-place standing. North Carolina currently holds first tie-breaker for goal differential over Angel City.

The team’s win streak was snapped at three after a 2-1 loss to OL Reign, but they are back in the playoff hunt after a 3-0 win against Orlando Pride led by Debinha. They will have another chance to gain ground on the playoff table against Gotham FC on Saturday.

Eliminated

9.  Orlando Pride (21 points: 5-8-6) 

The team was mathematically in contention for the playoffs ahead of their midweek match against North Carolina and had three games left to make up nine points to chase a sixth-place finish.In addition to winning out, they’d also have had to make up a goal difference gap with Chicago of plus-seven for the tie-breaker. The hypotheticals and mathematical are now a wash as the Pride were handed a lopsided 3-0 loss by the Courage.

10. Washington Spirit (19 points: 3-6-10) 

The Spirit have fought to stay in contention after a brutal start to the season. But despite seven points from their past three matches, they simply ran out of time. They’ll have a chance to play spoiler against Kansas City.

11. Racing Louisville FC (17 points: 3-8-8) 

Picked up their first win since May 22 with a 2-0 victory over Orlando Pride. Unfortunately, Racing Louisville had few ideas on the pitch throughout the season and the club have three more games to see if Kim Björkegren is the coach to get the team to the next level. They will try to make things difficult for Angel City on Sunday.

12. NJ/NY Gotham FC (12 points: 4-15-0) 

The club suffered their 15th loss of the season after a 2-0 defeat to Washington Spirit. All that’s left is to play spoiler against North Carolina this week after a 1-0 loss to OL Reign on Wednesday. 



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