The key stats behind all four NWSL semifinalists
- With the NWSL semifinals kicking off on Sunday, we’re analyzing all four teams still vying for the title
- Let’s run through a set of revealing statistics about the Portland Thorns, the OL Reign, the Kansas City Current, and the San Diego Wave
© Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
The NWSL semifinals are set to kick off on Sunday, with the Kansas City Current traveling to Seattle to take on the OL Reign and the Portland Thorns hosting the San Diego Wave. Both games are battles between a playoff veteran and a newbie.
The Thorns and the Reign were in this exact position a year ago, having earned a bye to the semifinals before being upset in their home stadiums. The Current and Wave have only ever played one playoff match each in their (short) histories, but both have been making impressive cases for a run to the NWSL Championship. Frankly, it’s hard to tell whether playoff experience or beginner’s luck will be the difference in these matchups.
There are a few statistics that stand out for each of these four teams, though, which might give us a better idea of how Sunday will go for the four remaining teams.
Portland Thorns FC
Portland’s 2022 regular-season goal differential jumps off the page. Excluding own-goals, Portland’s +24 goal difference is the best in their history, according to data available from 2016 to present. It’s also third-best in the entire league in that period, only behind the 2018 and 2019 North Carolina Courage squads (+35, +31).
Much of the Thorns’ success stems from the 47 goals they put in the back of the net this season, which led the league in 2022. That’s also the most goals a Portland team has scored since data has become available. Given these facts, it’s not surprising that Portland’s leading scorer and MVP candidate Sophia Smith’s 14 goals shattered the single-season scoring record for the Thorns this year.
3 defenders? Sophia Smith does not care, she gets by three defenders and make it 1-0 for The Thorns. 🌹 pic.twitter.com/jOne1nL0Q7
— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) August 6, 2022
Based on those attacking numbers we should definitely be expecting some Portland golazos in the playoffs.
If the Portland Thorns are lights-out in the attack, the OL Reign are best turning the lights off.
Excluding own-goals, the Reign only allowed 16 goals during the entire 22-game regular season. That was the best mark across all 12 teams. It’s also the fewest goals a team has conceded in a complete regular season, dating back to 2016. For reference, this year’s NJ/NY Gotham FC squad allowed 17 goals in a six-game stretch this summer.
OL Reign’s defensive success shouldn’t be surprising, given their personnel: Phallon Tullis-Joyce earned herself a place on the 2022 Goalkeeper of the Year shortlist after playing every minute in goal for the Reign this season, and both Alana Cook and Sofia Huerta are on the Defender of the Year shortlist after appearing in 19 games in 2022. The Reign’s opponent on Sunday, the Kansas City Current, will certainly have to be on their A-game in the attacking third to put some goals past Tullis-Joyce and the Reign.
Kansas City Current
Kansas City loves to score goals from 12 yards out.
The Current were awarded a league-high seven penalty kicks in the regular season and converted six of them, thanks to Lo’eau LaBonta (five) and Hailie Mace (1). That means 21% of the Current’s 29 goals and 71% of LaBonta’s seven in the 2022 regular season were scored from the spot.
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 16, 2022
What’s more is the Current earned – and LaBonta converted – a penalty kick five minutes into their first-ever playoff game last weekend to give them an early edge over Houston. If luck is in their favor on Sunday, they might just put a penalty past Tullis-Joyce. She’s faced and conceded four penalties this season, so the odds are in Kansas City’s favor should they get a call in the box.
San Diego Wave
Speaking of penalty kicks, we need to talk about the 2022 NWSL Golden Boot winner: Alex Morgan. Morgan scored 15 goals in 2022, and a whopping 33% of those were taken from the penalty spot. Still, that isn’t what I really want to highlight about Morgan and this San Diego team. No, I want to highlight Morgan scoring 15 of the Wave’s 32 goals this season in only 17 appearances.
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 3, 2022
To put that another way, even though Morgan didn’t play in five of the Wave’s games this year, she still accounted for 47% of San Diego’s total goals. Morgan also added two assists on the season to get her to 17 direct goal contributions, which is over half of the Wave’s offensive production all season. She was also the hero in her team’s first-round matchup with the Chicago Red Stars after she scored the go-ahead goal in the 110th minute.
Needless to say that Portland’s scouting report for the Wave probably has Morgan starred ten times over.
Lucky for each of these teams, though, the NWSL semifinals will not be played on a spreadsheet. It doesn’t really matter what happened in the regular season, or how each team got to the semifinals. All that matters is the chaos of the postseason, where any team can survive and advance to the next round.
Data courtesy of American Soccer Analysis. Note that Opta’s NWSL data is available only as far back as 2016.