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State of the NWSL: Four weeks to go

The race for the four NWSL playoff spots is getting pretty intense. We take a look at the playoff chances for all nine teams in the NWSL.

There are four weeks left in the NWSL regular season, and the Seattle Reign currently sit at the top of the league. It's a great vantage point as fans hope Seattle brings home a second NWSL Shield. While the Reign could solidify a playoff spot with a win on Wednesday, the playoff situation remains in flux for others. Only four teams make it to the playoffs, and just two points separates fourth and sixth place at the moment.

Below, we take a look at all nine teams in the NWSL, including their performance so far this season, their most important players, and their playoff chances.

Boston Breakers

Record: 4-10-3 | Goals For: 21 | Goals Against: 36
Head Coach: Tom Durkin, second season
Leading Scorer: Kristie Mewis - 6 | Most Assists: Stephanie McCaffrey - 3

Overview: The Breakers lost a number of key players this season — and finished second to last in 2014 — so their ninth-place ranking doesn't come as much of a surprise. After a strong May, Boston has struggled to create chances on the offensive end. They recently signed Australian World Cup star Kyah Simon to add some offensive spark. She's already given them two goals, but Boston's problems primarily lie in building possession through the middle of the field.

Key Players: Boston's starting goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher, was part of the World Cup-winning U.S. Women's National Team this year and was voted NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2014 after earning an NWSL record for saves in a season (106) and stopping six of the nine penalty shots she faced. She likes to save a lot of goals. Kristie Mewis is dangerous on set pieces and has the heavy task of leading the Breakers attack through the midfield.

Playoff Chances: 0.00001% - If the Thorns and KC don't draw this Wednesday, Boston is out. And even then a whole lot more has to go right for this miracle to occur.

Chicago Red Stars

Record: 7-2-6 | Goals For: 25 | Goals Against: 18
Head Coach: Rory Dames, fifth season
Leading Scorer: Christen Press - 8 | Most Assists: Vanessa DiBernardo - 5

Overview: A streaky 2014 season left the Red Stars a tiebreaker shy of the playoffs. They returned with many of the same star players and some stellar rookies (including left back Arin Gilliland and Sofia Huerta, who has six goals and three assists). As a result, Chicago has been far more consistent this season. While their offense was hit or miss during the World Cup break, their defense has kept them in the running for the NWSL Shield. Chicago has given up the second fewest goals in the league.

Key Players: The team now has World Cup hero Julie Johnston back to hold down the back line, and Christen Press has scored eight goals in six games. If their midfield can get Press the ball consistently, they are pretty unstoppable.

Playoff Chances: 99% - Chicago is almost as unlikely to miss the playoffs as Boston is to make it. Right now they're hot on Seattle's heels in the Shield race.

Houston Dash

Record: 5-6-5 | Goals For: 18 | Goals Against: 20
Head Coach: Randy Waldrum, second season
Leading Scorer: Jessica McDonald - 7 | Most Assists: Kealia Ohai - 5

Overview: After finishing its inaugural season in last place, the Houston Dash — one of two teams owned by an MLS team — made improvements in year two. The Dash's biggest problem last year was offense, scoring a league low 23 goals. They've added Jessica McDonald and Carli Lloyd, whose had a big impact since returning from the World Cup. McDonald is tall and quick, and has gotten on the end of a number of Dash crosses to become their leading scorer. The Dash offense is still hit or miss. They will need a lot more hits to make the playoffs.

Key Players: You already know about U.S. stars Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, and Meghan Klingenberg. All three are critically important to the team. But a lot of their attack goes through outside midfielder Kealia Ohai, a young, rising star who should get some national team time in the near future. Ohai has notched three goals and five assists.

Playoff Chances: 6% - The Dash are only a few points out in 6th place, but their schedule is brutal with an upcoming doubleheader against the Reign and a season finale against Chicago.

FC Kansas City

Record: 6-6-4 | Goals For: 23 | Goals Against: 18
Head Coach: Vlatko Andonovski, third season
Leading Scorer: Shea Groom - 4 | Most Assists: Frances Silva - 3

Overview: We all remember what FC Kansas City did to the Seattle Reign last year. But it hasn't been a bed of roses for Kansas City this year. The team was inconsistent over the World Cup stretch. That's to be expected when you lose four U.S. National Team players: Amy Rodriguez, Lauren Holiday, Heather O'Reilly, and Becky Sauerbrunn. Midfielder Erika Tymrak, who linked up well with Holiday in 2013, struggled to be the offensive spark these last few months. However, Kansas City has looked strong post-World Cup, and has been working their way up the table the last few weeks.

Key Players: Lauren Holiday is the playmaker that Kansas City needs, but — like many U.S. World Cup players — she appears to have some injuries since returning to her club team. Holiday and Amy Rodriguez were an unstoppable pair last season and could be the key to a long KC run.

Playoff Chances: 82% - KC has 3 of their last 4 at home, and the 4th is at struggling Sky Blue. If they can just hold serve they'll coast into a playoff spot.

Portland Thorns

Record: 5-6-4 | Goals For: 22 | Goals Against: 19
Head Coach: Paul Riley, second season    
Leading Scorer: Allie Long - 7 | Most Assists: Allie Long - 4

Overview: This Portland side is a bit difficult to figure out. The Thorns have an insane amount of talent, but they do not seem to be in sync at all times. They often deploy a 3-5-2, which has led to some confusion in the midfield as players figure one another out. The Thorns currently sit in the middle of the table, and we do not want them to stay there. In addition to being our rivals down South, the Reign recently acquired the 2016 first-round NWSL draft pick from the Thorns. The lower they fall in the standings, the higher the pick for the Reign. Down with Rose City!

Key Players: This team probably wouldn't have survived over the World Cup stretch without Allie Long, who provides goals and assists and is a leader many on the team look up to. Tobin Heath has taken on the role of playmaker since returning for the World Cup. You'll see her fancy footwork on display, but she also has freedom to roam and cut inside to get her team more involved in the attack.

Playoff Chances: 31% - The Thorns are in the middle of a tight back of chasers, but are hurt by the fact that they don't currently have the head-to-head tiebreaker over any of the others.

Seattle Reign

Record: 9-3-3 | Goals For: 3| Goals Against: 17
Head Coach: Laura Harvey, third season
Leading Scorer: Beverly Yanez - 9 | Most Assists: Kim Little - 6

Overview: The Reign lost just two players during the World Cup stretch: Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo. Granted, they were very good players, but Laura Harvey smartly built her team around multiple players, not one or two. In Rapinoe and Solo's absence, the entire team has stepped up. Seattle leads the league in goals scored, at 30, and goals against, at 17. This is primarily a result of their ability to control the ball in the midfield, limiting opposing teams' chances at building an attack.

Key Players: All of them. Seriously, this is a team with a lethal midfield and a multitude of players who can score at any given moment.

Playoff Chances: 99.99% - It's mathematically possible for Seattle to not make the playoffs but absurdly unlikely. They could clinch as early as this Wednesday with a win.

Sky Blue FC

Record: 4-7-5 | Goals For: 17 | Goals Against: 23
Head Coach: Jim Gabarra, third season
Leading Scorer: Katy Freels - 5 | Most Assists: Kelley O'Hara - 3

Overview: Sky Blue struggled at the bottom of the table for the first half of the season, but have gained a little spark since its World Cup players returned. They now have the spunky Kelley O'Hara, who has 3 goals in her last three matches. The recently signed Australian winger Samantha Kerr is providing speed and width on the attack. Sky Blue still sits in eighth place, so a playoff run will be difficult. They'll need a lot more offensive power to get there: Sky Blue has scored just 15 goals this season, good for worst in the league and half of the Reign's total.

Key Players: Kelley O'Hara is a firecracker on the field that gives Sky Blue offensive energy. Sky Blue needs the offensive support, as they are at the bottom of the league in goals scored.

Playoff Chances: 1% - Jersey doesn't look far out by number of points, but there are just so many teams ahead of them and they can't all lose. There aren't many permutations that put them above water.

Washington Spirit

Record: 7-5-3 | Goals For: 24 | Goals Against: 21
Head Coach: Mark Parsons, third season
Leading Scorer: Crystal Dunn - 12 | Most Assists: Five tied - 2

Overview: The Spirit have hovered near the top of the league for most of the season. Much of that success can be attributed to Crystal Dunn, who has clearly overcome last season's injury woes — scoring half of the team's 24 goals. Former Seattle Reign player Christine Nairn now has a strong partner in the midfield in Diana Matheson, a Canadian star who is also recovering from injury. If these two can link up and find Dunn, this team is scary. The Spirit have struggled with consistency, especially when they can't get Dunn the ball.

Key Players: Two words: Crystal Dunn. Defenses fear her speed, athleticism, and tenacity on the ball. Ali Krieger, right back with the USWNT, has been converted into a holding center midfielder since returning from the World Cup, where Coach Mark Parsons believes she will have the biggest influence on the game.

Playoff Chances: 80% - The Spirit have two points and a game in hand on both KC and Portland, which is enough of a buffer that anything but a collapse should see them in.

Western New York Flash

Record: 5-8-3 | Goals For: 20 | Goals Against: 29
Head Coach: Aaran Lines, third season
Leading Scorer: Three tied - 3 | Most Assists: Lynn Williams - 4

Overview: Western New York did a significant overhaul this offseason, relying on a number of trades and early-round draft picks. Young stars have been asked to lead the team, and they are actually doing a pretty good job rising to the challenge. Rookies Samantha Mewis and Lynn Williams are tied with second-year player Elizabeth Eddy for the team lead in goals scored (3). WNY still lacks a target player that provides a consistent scoring threat, although they just added the flashy Lady Andrade to their attack. The club has also struggled on the defensive end, giving up 29 goals. Like Portland, Reign fans have a vested interest in WNY, as Seattle acquired a 2016 first rounder from the club.

Key Players: We're going to cheat and say all of the young players. In addition to those already listed above, who are either 22 or 23 years old, the team's attack falls to Jaelene Hinkle (22 years old), Abby Dahlkemper (22), and Jasmyne Spencer, who is a shocking 24 years old.

Playoff Chances: 1% - There are a lot of teams in front and their remaining schedule is Washington, Chicago, Chicago, Portland. Tough road.

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