Sun. May 26th, 2024

The NWSL playoff semifinals are set, and all four teams can keep an eye on the prize thanks to talented players and tactical strengths.

The San Diego Wave, Portland Thorns, OL Reign, and NJ/NY Gotham FC can all realistically see a path to the podium after strong performances during the regular season. Talent-wise, the teams are closer together than usual after an incredibly competitive regular season with only six points separating first from sixth place. That said, there are clear favorites for the NWSL’s top prize thanks to strategic squad building complimented by talented coaching.

Ahead of Sunday’s semifinal matchups, here’s a ranking of each of the remaining teams.

Fans can watch all the semifinal action on CBS Sports Network.

4. NJ/NY Gotham FC

The lowest-ranked team in the playoffs may occupy the bottom spot on this list, but that’s not to discount their prospects in the race for the championship. Gotham are only in the first year of a rebuild under Juan Carlos Amoros and have sometimes looked like an unfinished product during the regular season but are in an impressive position despite the newness of the project.

Amoros’ front line is star-studded with U.S. internationals Lynn Williams and Midge Purce plus Spain World Cup winner Eshter Gonzalez, but outside of U.S. women’s national team veteran Ali Krieger, the squad is mostly made up of NWSL talent with varying levels of experience. Despite a lack of big names across the pitch, it’s a talented group – the highlight is fullback Jenna Nighswonger, the rookie of the year candidate who learned a new position along the way.

The team has settled well into Amaros’ speedy, attack-first style but has room to grow in terms of fully taking advantage of its attacking exploits and will need to build a deeper bench to improve upon its prospects. That said, the team’s defensive strengths were on full display in their 2-0 win over the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL quarterfinals that could help them go all the way.

3. OL Reign

Just edging out Gotham in these rankings are the Reign, who are historically one of the most consistent teams in the league but hit some rough patches during the regular season. At their best, though, the Reign are a force to be reckoned with.

The Seattle-based side are well known for their attack, which includes veterans Megan Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock, as well as young Canadian Jordyn Huitema and NWSL stalwart Veronica Latsko. The best version of the team was on display on both Deadline Day and their 1-0 win over Angel City in the quarterfinals — they had 14 and nine shots, respectively, on those days, at least half of which were on target.

Laura Harvey’s squad also includes defensive talent like center backs Alana Cook and Lu Barnes, as well as options off the bench like Bethany Balcer. That’s not even to speak of Rose Lavelle, who is the definition of a game changer when she’s healthy. Harvey’s team operates like a well-oiled machine at its peak, so they are hard to bet against on a good day.

2. Portland Thorns

The NWSL’s longtime example of a stacked roster remains just that, which is why they are the other favorite to take home another championship.

The team has two MVP nominees in midfielder Sam Coffey and forward Sophia Smith, who are just two of the team’s standouts in the midfield and attack. From Hina Sugita in the center of the park to Morgan Weaver, Crystal Dunn and 18-year-old Olivia Moultrie further up the pitch, the Thorns are arguably still the team to beat going forward. That’s not even to mention Christine Sinclair and Rocky Rodriguez, who provide options in their respective starting and substitute roles.

Mike Norris’ defense is similarly impressive with USWNT veterans Becky Sauerbrunn and Meghan Klingenberg, Finland international Natalia Kuikka and NWSL standout Emily Menges. The worry here is that it’s an aging squad and not as organized as it once was — they conceded 32 goals during the regular season, more than any other team in the playoffs.

1. San Diego Wave

The Shield winners boast a perfect combination of star power on the pitch and on the touchline with Casey Stoney and are one of the favorites to back that up with a championship this year.

The Wave boast a nice balance of high-wattage names on both sides of the pitch — USWNT center back Naomi Girma might be the team’s best player, and her burgeoning partnership with Abby Dahlkemper plus the talents of goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan mean they are tough to beat. As for the front line, Alex Morgan still leads the charge but 18-year-old Jaedyn Shaw might be one of the breakouts of the NWSL season.

The achievement in squad building is complete with veterans NWSL and international players like Taylor Kornieck and Emily van Egmond in midfield. A reason for concern, though, is Morgan’s scoring slump — she has scored just two goals for club or country since May. It could be a worry for the Southern California side, but they might have the talent on hand to overcome it.

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The post Ranking the NWSL semifinalists: San Diego Wave in top spot, Megan Rapinoe’s OL Reign in third appeared first on WorldNewsEra.

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