NWSL Chaos! The playoffs are still an uncertainty heading into the final weekend
The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022
As the regular season winds down, I got a chance to watch the Thorns play the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday. I don’t get a ton of chances in the fall to get to games in person because of college football obligations, so I was happy to get (at least) one more chance this year. I’ll have to wait and see what the playoff schedule looks like.
It was a gorgeous day!
The game had a bit of everything — not all of it good. Morgan Weaver had a pair of goals in the 3-0 victory and Bella Bixby got here NWSL-leading ninth shutout, but Sophia Smith went down in a collision with Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher in stoppage time. There was no update about her condition following the game, but when she finally got up, she was holding her head.
The victory put the Thorns atop the standings, but the field is still too crowded to predict where everyone will end up. The Reign were just a point back of the Thorns, and the Current (which clinched a playoff spot with their victory over the Spirit on Sunday) were two points back. So all three are in position to possible win the Supporters’ Shield.
After the Thorns’ victory, coach Rhian Wilkinson said she doesn’t table watch:
“I think I’ve annoyed a lot of people because I give this answer, and I truly believe that watching the table is a waste of time. We can only control what we do. For the fans and for the observers I think it’s fantastic for the league. Just so many top teams and how close it is. There’s no sort of teams that have taken off and are unreachable. It’s going to come down to the wire. But we take it one game at a time and we talk about it a lot because it really is easy to get distracted or put more pressure. Pressure is perceived. It’s what you’re deciding to look at when in fact we can only control what we do. The table takes care of itself if we take care of what we do as the Thorns — and we’ve been doing that and it won’t be any different for the next game.”
San Diego, with league-leading scorer Alex Morgan sitting on the bench, clinched a playoff spot with a come-from-behind 2-2 draw with Orlando. The Pride has already been eliminated.
The Wave are the the league’s first (non-relocated) expansion team to make the playoffs. San Diego’s final game is on Friday against the Courage, one of the hottest teams in the league. The Courage have a simple goal: Win and get in.
Angel City, meanwhile, needs rival San Diego to beat the Courage to have even a shot at making the playoffs. Chicago needs the Wave to win and they need to beat Angel City on Sunday. The Dash needs to beat the Spirit on Saturday to clinch a spot. It gets tricky here math-wise, so I’m not even gonna try. Suffice to say the playoffs are still very much in the air.
It’s been said before by me and a bunch of other people. The NWSL needs Decision Day.
A couple of final notes. Kudos to Casey Stoney and the rest of the Wave for wearing Pride shirts that said “Gay” down the back in bold letters. Here’s what Stoney said afterward:
“Well, I’m a gay female, and I don’t feel welcome in this state. I think it was a stand for us as a club to stand up for certain policies so that all communities can feel safe in any state, which I wouldn’t want to raise my children here. So, it was something that we chose to do as a collective.”
And here’s a video of Morgan Weaver’s celebration. Labonta did a golfing celebration on Sunday, too. The stakes are rising.
And this is a HUGE BUMMER for Dr. Nadim. Sending good thoughts her way.
Saudi Arabia’s women played their first match at home. I appreciate that the women are getting an opportunity, but they are part of MBS’s Vision 2030, which is basically a sportswashing effort. So I’m conflicted.
What Morgan Weaver said following the Thorns’ 3-0 victory over Chicago
Question: What are you feeling after that win and scoring two goals?
Weaver: A lot of emotions. I guess I’m really excited, really happy. We have worked so hard this year, and I think it just keeps showing every day on the field. You know, there’s times where we haven’t won games. Our supporters were here for us, and we knew we had their backs and we wanted to do it for us as well. So today, we went out there and we just wanted to play fine soccer and I think that was the biggest thing for us.
Question: The team has a chance to win back-to-back Shields.
Weaver: I think it’s awesome. But you know, honestly, we’re not looking at that, we’re looking at we have one more game and we need to go out there and win our next game, and then we’ll think about it.
Question: Talk about your goals.
Weaver: I feel like the whole game [Chicago was] kind of giving me the outside. So this time, I just took it and hit the ball. The second goal was all because of Sophia I was just there, right place, right time. She laid it back perfectly and I was there so that was really cool and really special. Sophia and I’ve been working a lot better each time we play together. So we’re finding each other more and more and so it’s been a really fun time.
Question: It looked like you were going for a hat trick.
Weaver: If it happened it happened. If it didn’t, I was not worried about it. I wanted honestly everyone on my team to score. The thing that was our goal is who can score it. There’s so many opportunities, so we could have had a few. We’ve all worked so hard for it, and I think we’re continuing to get better. And it’s not just one person scoring, it’s multiple people, which is super exciting. And Taylor’s goal — oh my gosh — I got chills. I was sitting there and I was like, Oh my gosh, did anyone see my legs? They’re like, prickly. Such a good goal.
Question: Do you feel like you have better chances because teams are focusing on Sophia?
Weaver: I think everyone’s big focus is Sophia, she’s phenomenal. She can get behind players. She can work her way and do whatever she really wants. And I think it’s awesome. And I think if they’re focused on that, we have 10 other people on the field that can be there and do the things that need to be done. So I think it’s really special. It’s something cool because we have a big depth.
Question: Talk about that celly.
Weaver: I think it’s super fun. The men get to celebrate why can’t we? So I think we take advantage of it. You know, Labonta, her celebrations have been phenomenal. Love them. And so I think it’s fun. It’s something that we get to do and you know, some players don’t want to celebrate like that. And that’s completely their choice, but some players do and I think Kelly and I just kind of make it fun for each other, we think of random things. So now we gotta wait for next game and see what happens.