NWSL Decision Day: Relive the wild regular season finish

Alex Morgan waves to the crowd.
Alex Morgan waves to the crowd after San Diego Wave FC's 2022 NWSL home opener against the NJ/NY Gotham FC. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

For the first time in its 11-year history, the National Women’s Soccer League stacked all of its final regular season matches with the same start date and time.

Sunday, October 15 at 5:00 p.m. is the set date and time. Six matches and shifting tables delivered on the anticipated chaos of the NWSL’s first Decision Day. Results determined which of the 12 teams would clinch the six playoff spots. 

The six teams vying for an NWSL title include shield-winner San Diego Wave, defending champion Portland Thorns, Challenge Cup winner North Carolina Courage, perennial contender OL Reign, the league’s most valuable team Angel City FC, and last season’s bottom finisher Gotham FC. 

Only San Diego and Portland had guaranteed playoff spots heading into Sunday’s matches. Decision Day would determine the rest.

But how did we get here? Two hours and plenty of goal differential math.

Angel City earns post-season spot with upset over Portland 

For the second season in a row, the Portland Thorns entered the last day of regular season matches looking to clinch the NWSL shield with a win. And, for the second year in a row, the Thorns fell short as Angel City FC beat the reigning champions 5-1.

Angel City FC needed all three points in order to secure its first playoff appearance in its second season. Five different goal-scorers — Mary Alice Vignola, Scarlett Camberos, Savannah McCaskill, Sydney Leroux, and Jun Endō — found the back of the net for the hosts. Angel City’s offensive showing was highlighted by a Leroux bicycle kick. 

Angel City hadn’t scored more than three goals this season and only reached that total once in a 3-3 draw against Thorns in April. 

Portland gets a bye as the second-ranked seed, and Angel City hits the road to face the OL Reign in the first round of playoffs.

San Diego leaps Portland to win shield

While Portland couldn’t see out its shield campaign, San Diego got the job done at home against Racing Louisville — a team that was in desperate need of a win, plus a hand from a few other teams, to clinch a playoff spot. 

In the 26th minute, rising star forward Jaedyn Shaw scored on a run piercing into the 18 with an assist from Alex Morgan. The forward added her own goal two minutes into the second half, ripping a shot across goal from the top of the area.

San Diego outshot Louisville 24-9 and 10-3 on target. Winning its first shield in its second season, San Diego gets a first-round bye. They will look to make a run to the NWSL championship, which will take place in the Wave’s Snapdragon Stadium in November.

Rapinoe shines in final regular-season match

Last week, an NWSL record crowd of over 34,000 celebrated Megan Rapinoe at her final regular season home match. But, Seattle hasn’t seen the last of the U.S. national team legend. The OL Reign beat the Chicago Red Stars 3-0 on the road to secure a fourth-place finish and a home quarter-final.

Against the Red Stars, Rapinoe scored twice in the 47th and 50th minutes — both goals from the left corner of the area, driven far post and bottom corner. With her brace, she became only the second NWSL player to score 50 goals for the same club, behind only Canadian Christine Sinclair at Portland.

Fellow Reign veteran Jess Fishlock added another in the 59th minute. U.S. national team defender Sofia Huerta enjoyed Decision Day, returning from her hamstring injury.

Courage beat 10-man Spirit, dashing Washington’s playoff hopes

The Washington Spirit’s star forward Trinity Rodman was sent off in the 23rd minute after video review upgraded her seemingly unintentional but studs-up tackle on Denise O’Sullivan to a red card. Just two minutes later, the North Carolina Courage’s Tyler Lussi finished a cross from teenage star Manaka Matsukubo to take advantage of Washington playing a man down.

After the goal was reviewed but ruled onside, North Carolina held on to its 1-0 lead. The Spirit’s loss, combined with other results across the league, kept Washington from making the playoffs for the second consecutive season since its 2021 league title.

The Courage will host Gotham for a quarter-final match and hope that Brazilian forward and Golden Boot candidate Kerolin can return after exiting Sunday’s game with a second-half leg injury.

Gotham FC draw enough to clinch sixth

Gotham FC finished last in the NWSL in 2022. The club started this season strong before struggling toward the end of the calendar, with only one win in its previous seven matches headed into Decision Day. 

Hosting Kansas City, Gotham jumped out to an early lead against the 11th-place Current. Midge Purce and Yazmeen Ryan each scored in the first 15 minutes. 

However, a goal from the Current’s Alexa Christine Spaanstra and a Gotham own goal leveled the game at 2-2 in the first half. A goal-line clearance from Gotham’s retiring defender and USWNT star Ali Krieger kept Kansas City from adding another.

Holding onto a draw was enough to send Gotham through.

Orlando win over Houston not enough for playoff push

Despite a Marta penalty kick helping the Orlando Pride beat the Houston Dash 1-0, three points weren’t enough for the Pride to earn a playoff spot. A -1 goal differential put Orlando in seventh behind the high-flying Angel City, whose massive win bumped its own goal differential up to +1, and Gotham, also +1. 

The Dash entered Decision Day needing a win and a lucky slew of other results for a shot at post-season play. Houston finished with the fewest goals allowed — only 18 in 22 matches. But, the Dash only bagged 16 goals this season and finished 10th of 12 teams.

What’s next?

The NWSL quarter-finals begin Friday, October 20, before the semi-finals on November 5 and the NWSL Championship on November 11.

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