- We’re only a few days away from the last weekend of the NWSL regular season, which means we’re close to finding out who is going to lift this year’s NWSL Shield
- The Portland Thorns, OL Reign, and Kansas City Current are all in the running, so let’s look at why each of those teams will (and won’t) win the Shield
There are just six matches left in the 2022 NWSL regular season, and the race for the NWSL Shield is coming down to the wire. There’s lots at stake for the Shield this year, including a bye in the first round of the playoffs, a home semifinal berth, and a $10,000 bonus for every player on the winning team.
That’s a huge deal in this league, where the minimum salary is just $35,000.
At this point, three teams are in the running to win the regular season: Portland Thorns, OL Reign, and Kansas City Current. Let’s take a look at why each team will and won’t come home with the Shield ahead of this weekend’s games.
PORTLAND THORNS FC
Record: 38 points, 10W-8D-3L, +25 GD
Next match: at NJ/NY Gotham FC on Saturday, 10/1
Portland are the only team on this list that can control their own destiny. With a win against Gotham on Saturday, the Shield will be theirs for the second time in as many years.
Why they will win the shield: Portland are on a four-game unbeaten run that includes back-to-back 3-0 wins. They’ve only lost three games this entire season and there’s just no sign that the Thorns, who have scored the most goals of any team this year (tied with North Carolina), will take their foot off the gas ahead of Saturday’s matchup.
Why they won’t win the shield: If Portland underestimate NJ/NY Gotham FC because of their opponent’s league-record 12-game losing streak, Midge Purce and company just might play spoiler. Remember, this is the NWSL. Any team can come away with a win on any given day.
Record: 37 points, 10W-7D-4L, +10 GD
Next match: vs. Orlando Pride on Saturday, 10/1
If the Thorns drop points against Gotham and OL Reign beat the Pride, the Reign will win the Shield for the first time since 2015.
Why they will win the shield: OL Reign are the hottest team in the NWSL right now. They haven’t lost in six games and they just closed out a three-game stint on the road with nine points.
What’s more is that U.S. women’s national team and Reign veteran Megan Rapinoe is playing some of the best soccer of her career. She’s notched six goals and four assists while contributing 0.35 goals added per 96 minutes this season, which is second across players who have recorded at least 500 minutes this season.
Why they won’t win the shield: There were stretches of the season that saw the OL Reign struggle to score goals in open-play, and we’ve witnessed similar flashes in recent games. The Reign were victorious against NJ/NY Gotham FC thanks to a Rapinoe penalty kick in a mid-week game last week, and they beat the Courage in mid-September thanks to a first-half set piece. The Reign even struggled in their first match against Orlando at the end of August, which saw them go down a goal before scoring two unanswered.
If the OL Reign come out flat and fail to connect in the run-of-play, they may struggle against an Orlando team that’s looking to end their season on a high note.
KANSAS CITY CURRENT
Record: 36 points, 10W-6D-5L, +1 GD
Next match: at Racing Louisville on Saturday, 10/1
Kansas City can complete their worst-to-first arc with a win against Racing on Saturday, a Portland loss, and an OL Reign draw or loss.
Why they will win the shield: The Current have already shattered expectations for their 2022 season and securing their first-ever NWSL Shield would be the icing on the cake. Led by Lo’eau LaBonta, Cece Kizer, Kristen Hamilton and their combined 20 goals, this Kansas City team is hard to beat. Case-in-point: the Current stole points from the Portland Thorns deep into second half stoppage time during their most recent matchup.
Why they won’t win the shield: Kansas City have been operating on very fine margins all year. Despite being in third place, their goal differential is only better than five teams of the other 11 teams in the NWSL (+1). And of teams in playoff position right now, the Current are tied with the Reign for fewest goals scored and have only conceded fewer goals than North Carolina. The Current will need to stifle a Louisville team that’s likely on cloud nine after beating playoff-hunting Angel City last Sunday by a 3-1 scoreline.
Thanks to some interesting scheduling decisions by the league, we might have a 2022 Shield winner as early as Saturday night, when the Thorns take on Gotham in New Jersey. If not, we could be waiting until late Sunday night to crown a regular-season winner in the NWSL.
Data courtesy of American Soccer Analysis.