The NWSL resumed regular season play after the FIFA international break. With the season winding down, much was yet to be decided on the week before the end of the regular season. By the end of Week 21, the two playoff spots that were left for grabs were secured, and the NWSL Shield race continued. A shutout record was set, and a familiar face made her first NWSL appearance for 2017. Here's a breakdown of Week 21.
Chicago Red Stars and Orlando Pride clinch playoff spots
On Saturday, the Chicago Red Stars became the third team to secure their spot in the postseason, their third consecutive year, after their 3-2 victory over the Houston Dash. The Red Stars just needed a win against the Dash at BBVA Compass Stadium to extend their season into the playoffs. Goals by Jen Hoy, Casey Short, and Christen Press for Chicago gave them the win, but not before Houston almost pulled a comeback. Amber Brooks and Rachel Daly both scored for the Dash with Daly's goal coming in the 86th minute. Chicago's goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, however, would deny any further opportunities in the closing minutes, including a Sarah Hagen header in stoppage time.
The Orlando Pride also just needed a win versus the Portland Thorns in the NWSL Game of the Week to secure a playoff spot, their first in their two-year franchise history since becoming an expansion team. However, Portland would not make it easy for the Pride, holding them to a 0-0 draw in front of 7,353 fans at Orlando City Stadium. Orlando would have to wait a day for the result between FC Kansas City and the Seattle Reign. If Seattle either lost or was held to a draw, Orlando would clinch. FC Kansas City, on a Shea Groom goal in the 23rd minute, would get the victory, enough for the Pride to clinch the last playoff spot and also eliminating the Reign from further contention.
Chicago and Orlando now join the Portland and North Carolina for a chance to win the NWSL Championship in October.
Portland Thorns: Adrianna Franch sets shutout record; Tobin Heath returns
Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch set a new shutout record as she recorded her 11th clean sheet of the season. The 26-year-old only needed two saves to break the record held by FC Kansas City's Nicole Barnhart who she set it in 2013. Franch helped the Thorns hold the Pride to a 0-0 draw after Orlando took 14 shots.
Portland midfielder Tobin Heath returned to NWSL play after being sidelined with a back sprain since March. Heath had yet to play in a single NWSL game this season. Last month, Heath was removed from the disabled list and began training with the Thorns. Heath subbed in the 60th minute for Nadia Nadim. Five minutes later, she served a free kick, but it was blocked by Camila.
NWSL Shield race continues
The North Carolina Courage had an opportunity to clinch the NWSL Shield, the award for the best regular season record. A win against Sky Blue FC on Sunday evening was all the Courage needed, but Sky Blue, even after giving up a goal in the 27th minute as Ashley Hatch scored her sixth goal of the season, kept the top team in the NWSL from clinching the Shield. In the 75th minute, Raquel Rodriguez would score for the New Jersey-based club, and the game in Piscataway would finish as a 1-1 draw. The Courage were held to a draw for the first time in 21 games, and their first this season.
Although the Shield race is close with Portland two points behind the Courage, North Carolina still has two games left (one game is a makeup game that was postponed due to Hurricane Harvey). The Courage certainly have the advantage to win the Shield. They'll have two more chances to clinch the Shield either on Wednesday when they take on the Dash, or on Saturday when they host the Pride.
Boston Breakers win on the road
For the first time this season, the Boston Breakers won on the road with their 3-0 win at the Washington Spirit. The Boston-Washington matchup remained scoreless the first half, but in the second half, it was all Boston with goals from Natasha Dowie and two own goals by the Spirit.
Boston's win at Washington snapped a 13-game winless streak on the road and a five-game losing streak.
The NWSL 2017 season wraps up this upcoming week beginning with a midweek game between the North Carolina Courage and Houston Dash. On Saturday, the Chicago Red Stars travel to Portland to take on the Thorns in the NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime, Washington hosts Seattle, Sky Blue FC goes to Boston, and North Carolina hosts Orlando. On Sunday, FC Kansas City welcomes the Houston Dash for the final game of the season.