NWSL: National Women’s Soccer League resumes after Olympic break
National Women’s Soccer League resumes after Olympic break. Washington Spirit look to hold onto first place.
Three quarters of the NWSL season is in the books and the Washington Spirit currently sit atop the league’s standings on 32 points. Despite the rest of the league resuming play on August 26, 27 and 28, the Spirit and Houston Dash official welcomed fans back to NWSL play post-Olympics. The Spirit came out of the match on top 2-1 as the two sides made up a fixture that was postponed due to foul weather earlier this season.
The result puts Washington into prime position to qualify for the playoffs. The club currently sits seven points ahead of the last playoff team, and with five matches to play should make the playoffs.
The Portland Thorns also look safe going into the homestretch of the season. On 29 points, three back of first place Washington, the Thorns recent form has been up and down. Despite that, the team look comfortable in second and deserve a playoff place based on their excellent play in 2016. Portland will finish the NWSL season with three of their last five matches at home. However, a tough road test this weekend against Seattle awaits them.
The chasing pack
Western New York Flash and Chicago Red Stars currently sit third and fourth in the NWSL table, respectively. Both teams have fluctuated between first and fourth throughout the season, and both find themselves in precarious positions with five matches to play. The good news is, either side could put together a strong run of form and overtake the top two. The bad news is, either team could slip out of the NWSL Playoff positions all together.
Chicago has the toughest test when play resumes at the weekend. The Red Stars will travel to New Jersey to play Sky Blue FC. The two sides drew 1-1 in Chicago when they met at the end of May. Saturday night’s fixture is a cliched six-pointer, as the team that wins the match not only collects three points, but takes three points off their opponent. A Sky Blue win would put the New Jersey outfit level on 25 points, and Chicago could see a playoff place slip through their hands.
Like Sky Blue, the Seattle Reign are chasing the pack and could qualify for the NWSL Playoffs with a solid month of soccer. Just five points separate the Reign and the final playoff place. Seattle’s road to the playoffs, however, isn’t easy as the team will face second place Portland this weekend. The two sides have met three times already this season. At the end of July, Portland claimed a 1-0 victory over Seattle after the two sides drew the two prior meetings this season. Luckily for Seattle, they will host Saturday’s fixture.
Done and dusted
Although some of the teams are not mathematically out of the NWSL Playoff picture, the truth is they should begin thinking about next season. Boston Breakers, Houston Dash and FC Kansas City will hope a strong end to the season will ignite a better 2017. Boston in particular will hope for better as the Breakers have won only twice this term, collecting seven points.
Top scorer and assist leader
USA under-23 national team and Western New York striker Lynn Williams leads the way with eight goals this season. Williams is in her second season with the Spirit and her form this term could lead to a national team call-up over the winter. Teammate Jessica McDonald is top in the assists category in 2016 with six as the American has teed up Williams on several occasions.
Most saves and clean sheets
Kansas City’s Nicole Barnhart is by far and away the leader in saves in the NWSL as the shot stopper has produced 67 saves. That is 26 more than her nearest competitor. Those 67 saves shows just how porous Kansas City’s back line has been in 2016, however.
Meanwhile, Barnhart is tied for the league lead in clean sheets with five. Four NWSL goalkeepers are tied for top spot. Chicago’s Alyssa Naeher, Seattle’s Hope Solo and Washington’s Stephanie Labbe all sit on five clean sheets each.
Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @DrewMFarmer. Drew is a sports journalist located in Manchester, UK. Originally from the US, Drew’s writing has been featured in magazines and on websites around the world. Check out his website at www.SoccerTravels.net.