LaBonta, Jakobsson make all the difference in the first round of the NWSL playoffs

Quick Hits
  • The 2022 edition of the NWSL playoffs kicked off over the weekend with the Kansas City Current topping the Houston Dash and with the San Diego Wave beating the Chicago Red Stars
  • While there was plenty of action in both games, two players really stood out on the way to victory

This is an excerpt from Monday’s Weekend Recap. Subscribe to our free newsletter to get future editions of the Weekend Recap delivered right to your inbox.

The 2022 edition of the NWSL playoffs kicked off on Sunday and didn’t disappoint. In the first match of the evening, the Houston Dash and the Kansas City Current, two playoff first-timers, went head-to-head with Kansas City coming out on top with a 2-1 scoreline. In the other matchup, the San Diego Wave welcomed – and bested – the Chicago Red Stars, the only playoff veterans in the first round, by the same scoreline.

We also saw two new NWSL playoff attendance records, with 21,184 fans in the stands at PNC Stadium and 26,215 at Snapdragon Stadium just a few hours later.

While there was tons of action in both games, two players really stood out on the way to victory.

Lo’eau LaBonta, KC Current

LaBonta was lights-out on Sunday, just like she’s been all season. She opened the scoring with a penalty-kick goal in the fifth minute to put Kansas City ahead, and she played a crucial role in the last play of the game that sent the Current through to the semifinals. 

Deep into second-half stoppage time, Kansas City midfielder Alex Loera and LaBonta teamed up to beat three Houston defenders with a give-and-go. LaBonta’s pass set up Loera to play a ball into the six-yard box that Kate Del Fava put past Houston’s Jane Campbell in the 100th minute. It was Del Fava’s first NWSL goal and also the latest non-extra time goal in NWSL history across all competitions.

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With the season that LaBonta has put together, it’s no surprise that she had a hand in the game-winning sequence in the Current’s first-ever playoff game. LaBonta’s eight goals are more than she’s scored in every season combined since she joined the league in 2016. Her raw expected goals, expected assists, and goals added values are also peaking in 2022. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that six of those eight goals were from the penalty spot, which undoubtedly inflates LaBonta’s numbers. But a goal is a goal, and the scoresheet doesn’t care if it’s scored 12 yards away from the goal line or not. 

Sofia Jakobsson, San Diego Wave FC

It took 120 minutes to decide the winner in the San Diego vs. Chicago game late on Sunday night. Chicago went up a goal in the 10th minute after Yuki Nagasato capitalized on a big mistake from Kailen Sheridan, but the Wave scored two unanswered goals, one from Emily van Egmond and the other from Golden Boot winner Alex Morgan, to advance to the next round. 

Though Jakobsson didn’t score, she assisted Morgan’s game-winning goal in extra time. Jakobsson generated much of the Wave’s attack, finding and penetrating space on the left wing. She consistently tested Chicago’s backline and took players on, sending crosses in across the 18-yard box.

Jakobsson’s regular-season statistics for the Wave don’t necessarily jump off the page. She averaged just 4.7% of San Diego’s touches this season and in her 17 games, she scored one goal and assisted another three while contributing 10 key passes. But regular-season numbers don’t matter in the playoffs, and Jakobsson stepped up big when it mattered.

Now all eyes are on next week’s semifinals. Kansas City are set to take on the OL Reign in Seattle, and San Diego will travel to Providence Park to play the Thorns. Will LaBonta and Jakobsson be the difference-makers next week, too? Only time will tell. 

Data courtesy of American Soccer Analysis.