The start of the NWSL postseason
⚙️ How it works
After battling through the 22-game regular season, six of the 12 NWSL teams snagged a postseason berth. There’ll be three rounds of single-elimination play over the next two weeks, culminating with the Saturday, October 29th championship game. LFG!
- The top two seeds, No. 1 OL Reign and No. 2 Portland Thorns FC, received byes to next Sunday’s semis, but the other four squads — No. 3 San Diego Wave FC, the No. 4 Houston Dash, No. 5 Kansas City Current and the No. 6 Chicago Red Stars — will kick off the quarter-finals today.
⚽️ The contenders
No. 1 OL Reign: After a chaotic season that at one point saw the possibility of a seven-way tie for first place, the Seattle-based Reign clinched the top spot and the NWSL Shield on the final day of the regular season.
- Winning was a true team effort, with forward Bethany Balcer and midfielder Rose Lavelle leading the offensive charge while goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce covered things in the back.
No. 2 Portland Thorns FC: Despite finishing the regular season just one point behind their Pacific Northwest rivals, the Thorns enjoyed another strong campaign, and this one was all about goals.
- They netted a whopping 49, the most of any team in the league. Standouts include aforementioned forward Sophia Smith, who posted a 14-goal season (the second-most of any player), and midfielder Yazmeen Ryan, who notched five assists.
No. 3 San Diego Wave FC: The SoCal squad made history as the first expansion team to qualify for the NWSL playoffs in their inaugural season, and they can thank striker Alex Morgan for that — the USWNT star dominated her way to this year’s Golden Boot after recording 15 goals. Sheesh.
- On defense, Rookie of the Year contender Naomi Girma settled into the NWSL seamlessly, playing a key role in one of the league’s most stalwart lineups.
No. 4 Houston Dash: Making their first-ever playoff appearance, the Dash confirmed their spot with a stellar away record that saw seven wins out of 11 games on the road. One key difference-maker? Forward Ebony Salmon. She scored nine times in 12 games after joining the team in June. No fish out of water here.
No. 5 Kansas City Current: After winning just three times in 2021, this year’s Current team made an impressive leap to secure their first playoff spot in only their second season.
- Goalkeeper A.D. Franch was one of the best in the league, while midfielder Lo'eau LaBonta and forward Cece Kizer got the job done on offense, dazzling with their soccer and celly moves.
No. 6 Chicago Red Stars: The Red Stars may be last in seeding, but they’re definitely not least. The 2021 finalists are back in the postseason thanks in large part to a career-best year for forward Mallory Pugh, who scored 11 goals and posted six assists, tied for most in the league.
🗞 The backdrop
Content warning: This section contains mentions of sexual assault.
Today’s games are the first since the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) published the findings of their Sally Yates–led independent investigation of abuse in women’s soccer.
- The report, which was launched last year after bombshell allegations against NWSL coaches were published in The Athletic, found that verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct “had become systemic.”
- Current and former players, fans and sponsors all demanded change in the aftermath, and those calls were met with some action as a handful of complicit owners were forced out of their roles.
But the work’s far from over, and it’s crucial to keep this backdrop in mind throughout the postseason. We’ll be cheering for the players on the pitch and amplifying their calls for long-overdue change.
🏆 The predictions
It’s hard to bet against the top two teams making it to the final. The Reign and the Thorns have a reputation for excellence, and they both only boosted it this season. OL Reign boasts one of the most stacked squads in the NWSL — we’d be remiss not to mention 2021 MVP Jess Fishlock, USWNT icon Megan Rapinoe and CanWNT’s own Quinn.
- The Thorns are just as impressive, with USWNT leader Becky Sauerbrunn, defender Meghan Klingenberg and “Captain Canada” Christine Sinclair donning the red and black.
But we have to pick an underdog — San Diego. With Morgan leading the way up front and one of the world’s best goalkeepers, Canada’s Kailen Sheridan, locking down the defense, the Wave may be poised to go where no expansion team has gone before — straight to the podium. Gnarly.
📺 How to watch
Drown out your Sunday Scaries with some soccer. The Dash face off against the Current tonight at 5 p.m. ET on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on Twitch for international viewers.
- Then at 10 p.m. ET, the Wave will try to wash away the Red Stars on CBS Sports Network in the U.S. and again on Twitch for the non-domestic crowd. Let the games begin.