For the first time, Decision Day in the NWSL will feature every game kicking off simultaneously, rather than the staggered starts of prior years. With only two of six playoff spots clinched, eight teams still vying for the other four spots, and seven of those teams still in the running to host a playoff game, every game this weekend will have a big impact on the final standings.
The top two seeds, and thus the teams which get a bye in the quarterfinal round, are already locked up by San Diego Wave and Portland Thorns, but the shield winner is still undetermined. Portland travels to Angel City FC, while San Diego hosts Racing Louisville, with the Thorns currently in the driver’s seat.
For OL Reign, the mission is simple – if they win their game against Chicago, they’ll qualify for the playoffs. But where they finish and whether they get to come home to Lumen Field for a quarterfinal match will depend on other results. The best outcome is a draw in the Spirit/Courage game, and either a draw or Gotham loss in their game against Kansas City.
The Reign still have a path to the postseason with a draw or loss, but in those situations they’ll need some significant help.
OL Reign fan Alison Gale has a widget that you can use to simulate results of all six games and see how they affect the standings. In short, there are over 350 potential combinations of outcomes which have an impact on the final standings (some of which include margin of victory), so there’s no way we can exhaustively discuss them here. Instead, we’ll focus on the more straightforward question of what is necessary for the Reign to qualify for and potentially host a playoff game.
If the Reign beat the Red Stars, they’ll have 32 points and can’t finish worse than 5th. Since the Courage and Spirit can’t both claim 3 points in their match, the Reign would leapfrog at least one of them. The ideal outcome would be a draw, which would mean both finish with 31 points and the Reign would secure a top-4 finish and home playoff game. Should Gotham fail to win their game against Kansas City, the Reign would finish above them and also be assured a home quarterfinal match no matter the result in the Spirit/Courage game. If Gotham win and the Spirit/Courage game has a winner, then the Reign would finish in fifth and be on the road against one of those teams.
Predicting their opponent if the Reign finish top-4 requires a supercomputer to parse potential outcomes, but in short it could be any one of the Courage, Spirit, Gotham, Angel City, Louisville or Orlando depending on specific results in the other five games.
If the Reign draw against the Red Stars, they will finish with 30 points and a +2 goal difference. In that situation, their most straightforward route to the postseason is if Orlando fails to win against the Dash, Angel City fails to win against Portland, and Racing Louisville fails to win against San Diego; or if the Spirit lose to the Courage and either Gotham loses or the Pride and Racing fail to win. There are a few other paths to the playoffs involving goal differential, and there are even scenarios where the Reign could still finish as high as 4th and host a quarterfinal game, or end up as low as 9th.
If the Reign lose, the best they can finish is in sixth and they will need a lot of help. The rooting scenarios are similar to if they draw, with the addition of some tiebreaker situations where Houston, Angel City or Orlando could catch them with certain outcomes if the Reign’s small goal differential advantage over those teams is eroded.
Let’s just keep it simple and win.