Another week of play in the NWSL, and one that narrowed the playoffs field and secured home playoff matches were the major storylines of Week 20 around the league. Here's a breakdown of what happened this past week as the league goes into the international break.
North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns clinch home playoff games
Both the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns had already clinched a playoff spot. Coming into Week 20, both clubs were in a position to secure a home playoff game.
North Carolina's 1-0 victory over the Houston Dash allowed them to gain home field advantage for the 2017 playoffs. The Courage remain in first place with 45 points, leading in the race to capture The NWSL Shield for the best regular season record with three games remaining. Saturday's win also marked the Courage’s 15th win of the season, which puts them one victory away from breaking Seattle Reign's 2014 record for most wins in a season. Individually, goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland recorded her 8th clean sheet of the season, giving the Courage 11 shutouts for 2017, tying FC Kansas City's 2013 record.
The Portland Thorns battled the Boston Breakers to a 1-0 victory in a game where they were outplayed. One goal in the 72nd minute for Portland was all they needed to bring a playoff game to Providence Park where they are 9-1-1 for the season. Christine Sinclair's goal was her eighth of the season, which now leads the team. Sinclair also tied her 2013 season-high eight goals. With Sunday's goal, the Canadian international became the Thorns' all-time leading scorer with 31 goals in the NWSL. The 1-0 victory was also Portland's fourth consecutive win, and their 13th of the year, setting a club record for most wins in a regular season.
Playoff field narrows
FC Kansas City, the Houston Dash, and Sky Blue FC were eliminated from the playoffs. FC Kansas City and Sky Blue needed a win to stay in contention, for anything less than three points would officially end their hopes.
Though FC Kansas City made a remarkable run, losing only once in six games, a 0-0 tie against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday would not be enough to keep them in the running. FC Kansas City, the 2014 and 2015 champions, missed the postseason for the second year in a row.
As a result of the draw between FCKC and Chicago, the Houston Dash were also eliminated. The Dash has yet to play in the postseason since their expansion in 2014.
Sky Blue FC needed a win against the Washington Spirit, but they found themselves disappointed after the Spirit ruined their playoff hopes. Sky Blue took the 1-0 lead right before the end of the first half on a Maya Hayes goal, but Whitney Church equalized in the 75th minute, and then Mallory Pugh scored the game-winning goal in the 85th minute. Sky Blue would attempt to pull the comeback, much like they had done before in 2017, but their efforts would fall short.
And then there were three
The Orlando Pride, Seattle Reign, and Chicago Red Stars remain as the only three contenders for the final two playoff spots.
The Pride came very close to clinching their first playoff spot against Seattle last Thursday. After a scoreless game, nearing the end of regulation, Alex Morgan found an opportunity to send a shot out wide in the 93rd minute, going low into the far post, far from goalkeeper Lydia Williams' reach. Orlando's celebration would be short-lived, however, as Nahomi Kawasumi found Jess Fishlock in the box. Fishlock directed a powerful header that went past goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, silencing the Orlando City Stadium and giving the Reign hope to continue their chance to reach the postseason.
The Red Stars only needed a win to clinch a playoff spot, but the draw against FC Kansas City put that on hold, at least until September 23rd. Chicago reclaimed the third place spot due to the head-to-head tiebreaker against Orlando, and they'll have another chance to secure their postseason future when the NWSL returns after the FIFA break.