USWNT Rewind: Reign Win Shield As NWSL Regular Season Wraps Up
The 2022 NWSL Regular Season came to a close with OL Reign winning the 2022 NWSL Shield and Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars claiming the two remaining playoff berths on a thrilling final weekend of action. The Reign finished atop the table with 40 points, narrowly edging second-place Portland Thorns FC, which finished on 39 points. San Diego Wave FC, the Houston Dash and Kansas City Current all finished with 36 points from 22 points, though the Wave drew ahead of the pack to claim the three seed due to their superior goal differential, influenced in part by the 15 regular season goals from newly crowned 2022 NWSL Golden Boot Winner Alex Morgan. The Dash finished fourth (+8 goal differential) followed by the Current in fifth (0 goal differential). The Chicago Red Stars claimed the sixth and final playoff spot, making their seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
The action kicked off on Friday night, with San Diego Wave FC and the North Carolina Courage playing to a 0-0 draw in front of 18,000 fans at newly opened Snapdragon Stadium. The point was enough to secure a first-round match at home for the Wave, who are the first expansion team in NWSL history to qualify for the playoffs in their first season.
The result also secured the first ever playoff appearance for the Houston Dash, who followed up their historic playoff berth with a 2-1 road win over the Washington Spirit on Saturday. Midfielder Andi Sullivan scored the lone goal from the Spirit, converting a penalty kick in the 47th minute.
Saturday kicked off with a riveting 3-3 draw between hosts NJ/NY Gotham FC and the Thorns. Portland entered the day in control of its own fate and able to clinch the club’s second consecutive NWSL Shield with a road win over Gotham, but it let a 3-1 lead and the Shield slip away. The hosts from New Jersey took a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute but two goals from Sophia Smith in a three-minute span put Portland ahead, 2-1 at the half. Smith started her brace with a well-taken penalty kick in the 44th minute and followed it up with another goal in the first minute of stoppage time as she darted onto a cross and finished at the near post. It was Smith’s fourth multi-goal game of the regular season and pushed her goal total to 14, breaking the Thorns’ single-season scoring record of 13 which had previously been held by Lindsey Horan. Smith’s 14 goals were good for second overall in the Golden Boot race, one shy of Morgan.
WATCH: SMITH TALLIES BRACE FOR THORNS
Portland looked primed to secure the victory after taking a 3-1 lead in the 56th minute, but goals from Gotham in the 56th and 74th minutes saw the game end in a 3-3 draw. Kristie Mewis and Midge Purce both tallied second-half assists for Gotham.
The Thorns loss opened the door for OL Reign to claim the Shield with a win over the Orlando Pride and the Seattle-based club took full advantage of the opportunity, winning 3-0 to claim the club’s third Shield overall and first since claiming back-to-back Shields in 2014 and 2015 as the Seattle Reign. Megan Rapinoe, in her 100th regular season appearance for the Reign, opened the scoring in the eight minute with a left-footed finish. It was Rapinoe’s seventh goal of the season, tied for the most by any player on the Reign this season. Two more first half goals and a strong defensive effort lifted the Reign to their fourth consecutive victory, closing the regular season on a remarkable run of form to claim the first place in the 12-team league
WATCH: RAPINOE NETS REIGN GAME WINNER
In yet another remarkable result on the day, Racing Louisville FC defeated Kansas City 1-0 on a goal late in second-half stoppage time. With the result, the Current, who entered the weekend still in contention for the Shield, finished fifth overall in the standings, narrowly missing out on a home playoff game.
In the final game of the regular season, the Chicago Red Stars defeated Angel City FC 2-0 to clinch the sixth and final spot in the postseason. Needing a win to reach the playoffs for a seventh consecutive year, Chicago rose to the occasion and took a lead in the first half stoppage time as Mallory Pugh scored her 11th goal of the regular season. Pugh, who finished second in the NWSL MVP voting last season, has been directly involved in 17 goals this season, totaling 11 goals and six assists in 16 regular season appearances. The Red Stars added an insurance tally in the second half and kept the clean sheet to clinch the postseason berth in front of a crowd of over 8,000 fans at SeatGeek Stadium.
WATCH: PUGH PUTS CHICAGO INTO PLAYOFFS
With the six-team field now set for the postseason, playoffs will commence following the October FIFA International Window, during which the U.S. Women’s National Team will take on England on Oct. 7 at the iconic Wembley Stadium (3 p.m. ET on FOX), followed by an Oct. 11 match against Spain in Pamplona (2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2). The playoffs begin on Sunday, October 16 with the four-seed Houston Dash hosting the five-seed Kansas City Current (5 p.m. ET on Paramount+) and three-seed San Diego Wave FC taking on the sixth-seeded Chicago Red Stars in San Diego (10 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network). The Reign and Thorns received first-round byes in the playoffs by virtue of their top-two finish in the standings.