NWSL Playoff Predictions

From RSL Soapbox

We’re just over a month away from the last regular season games of the NWSL season. Insert all the crying GIFs.

To commemorate, I thought I’d make predictions for the last games to come up with who I think the final four will be, and who will ultimately win those games. I also have predictions for the NWSL season-end awards. Jump in and read all about it!

Who Wins the ‘Ship?

As a reminder, if the playoffs were tomorrow, we’d see the Royals at Providence Park (Thorns) and Chicago at Wake Med (NCC). But the playoff race is far from over; we see a new top four almost weekly. While the Thorns and the Courage can reasonably bet on a playoff showing, who’ll they be facing remains a top off. The six teams I’ve identified as realistic playoff contenders are the current top six, although including Washington is a bit generous: Portland (36 points), Carolina (34 points), Chicago (32 points), Utah (31 points), RFC (30 points), and Washington (25 points).

I won’t address every game, but there are a few between playoff contenders that I think are worth discussing.

9/11 – I think Carolina is a better, smoother team than Portland, which I think gives them an edge to win Wednesday. If this happens, Carolina will take the top spot from Portland.

9/18 – This will be the game to watch. Utah and the Reign have been fighting the past few weeks for that fourth spot. This game is crucial for both teams. While Utah has shown a good deal of strength, it has come intermittently. The Reign have been sparse as well, so this game could be a toss up. However, I’m picking RFC as the winner.

9/21 – Chicago has shown up strong the past few weeks, but has a tendency to crumble under pressure. I’m predicting a tie between Chicago and Washington, which would harm Chicago but leave Washington relatively unaffected.

9/21 – The two teams have a tie and a Carolina win in their last two meetings. Given past track records, I’m predicting another tie, thanks to a home advantage.

9/28 – In their last two meetings, Carolina’s won both, although one was aided by a red card on the Spirit. I still have to pick Carolina as the winner though.

9/28 – Each team has a win under their belt from the last two meetings, but Chicago should win this one.

9/29 – We’ve lost both Cascadia Rivalries, which means the Reign stand a good chance of making it 3.

10/12 – Portland will beat Washington in the last regular season game.

As it stand (with our other, unlisted predictions) our final four teams would be Carolina (47), RFC (43), Portland (40) and Chicago (40). In this lineup, Carolina would take on Chicago and RFC would take on Portland. In this lineup, I predict the Reign taking on Carolina and a tragic Carolina win yet again. This would produce the second shield, ship combination in league history, both belonging to Carolina.

Most Valuable Player

Nagasato (CHI) and Kerr (CHI) make the most sense for the MVP pick as it stands now. Kerr’s goals and Nagasato’s assists have made Chicago the team it is. I think it’d be hard to justify another pick, unless things change in the next month.

Golden Boot

Sam Kerr has 6 goals on the second biggest goal scorer, Christine Sinclair (POR). It seems doubtful Kerr doesn’t nab the Golden Boot for, yes, the third year in a row.

Defender the Year

As much as I hate her, Jaelene Hinkle (NC) has a compelling case for defender of the year. Her presence on the back line for 18 matches is a large component of the Courage success. With 20 clearances, and 72% successful tackles, Hinkle is one of the best defenders in the league. She’s also consistently underrated, and her bad PR makes her an unlikely contender for a league award.

Casey Short (CHI) has made nearly every team of the month, which means the league is already paying attention to her. With 19 starts and 40 clearances, Short’s statistics speak for her. She’s a strong part of the Chicago team. With her, Kerr, and Nagasato, it’s surprising Chicago isn’t topping the league every week.

Goalkeeper of the Year

Kailen Sheridan (NJ) deserves it. She’s the best part of Sky Blue’s lineup, consistent, and leads the league in saves. Picking anyone else would be a joke. Yet, Sheridan has consistently been overlooked by the public and the league, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Rookie of the Year

What rookies should be in the running? It’s hard not to look at the top draft picks for options. Davidson (CHI), Staab (WAS), Bailey (WAS) stand out as top contenders for the honor.

Davidson is certainty a name you hear a lot. But with 9 starts, 1 goal, and 38 clearances, she isn’t the best performing rookie, although she has benefited Chicago and certainly has much to be proud of. However, her lack of club play is a result of her USWNT appearances. Her world cup standing may have her boosted to Rookie of the Year, despite a mediocre club showing.

Samantha Staab has certainly made an impression on Washington, with 18 appearances, 2 yellows, and successful tackles, Staab feels like a perfect contender. She has over a 90% successful passing rate on her own side and 2 team of the month appearances. It’s hard to think of a higher impact rookie than Staab with more chances than her to prove herself.

Teammate Jordan DiBiasi comes close though. With 17 starts, four goals, and one team of the month appearance, DiBiasi has proven herself a valuable member of the league.

Ultimately, I’d predict Staab gets the honors, although I’m unsure of the international pressure the league faces to pick Davidson.

Coach of the Year

Paul Riley (NC) certainly stands a chance to take the honors for a third year in a row. He’s proven his technical prowess and adaptability time and again. But the league may be looking for more than wins in their 2019 selection.

Vlatko Andonovski (RFC) makes a good contender for coach of the year. He’s shaped a rebuilt Reign line into a winning franchise, dealt with a new facility and political pressure. While he hasn’t made consistent results, he has mastered a difficult landscape with ease.

Richie Burke (WAS) stands out for similar reasons. While not a dramatic turn around, he has transformed a bottom-of-the-league team to a middle-of-the-pack one.

I predict, though, Riley will win for a third year in a row.

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