The 2021 NWSL season has been an extremely tight affair. With only one weekend of games remaining, only four points separate 3rd from 7th place, with the top six teams advancing to a newly expanded NWSL playoffs. OL Reign have already booked their ticket for the playoffs but they could still finish in 2nd or 3rd, and a first-round bye is on the line in their game at Kansas City this weekend. Suffice to say, the potential NWSL playoff scenarios remain very complicated, and all five of the league’s remaining regular-season games this weekend have implications on final seeding.
For OL Reign, the simplest route to a No. 2 seed and bye in the first round of the playoffs is to get a result at Kansas City. A win or a draw on Saturday will ensure they finish ahead of every team except Portland, who clinched the NWSL Shield in their prior game.
If Kansas City defeats OL Reign, things get more complicated. The Reign can still finish second if the Washington Spirit fail to win their finale at home against Houston on Sunday afternoon. If the Spirit win that game, they will finish even on points with the Reign and hold the first tie-breaker, which is head-to-head performance.
Predicting OL Reign’s first opponent in the playoffs probably requires a supercomputer to consider all of the scenarios since there are over 240 permutations of results from the remaining five regular-season games and many options for the final standings will involve tiebreakers — one scenario sees four teams ending tied on 35 points, which would leave one of those teams on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in.
538 simulates the remaining games in the season every week and currently predicts Gotham as most likely to finish in 5th, with Houston by far the most likely to finish in the 6th and final playoff spot, but the algorithm’s confidence in those predictions is low and gives Chicago a similar likelihood of finishing 5th. If the Reign finish in second they will await the winner of the 3-vs-6 game for a Nov 14 game at Cheney Stadium; otherwise, if they finish third and win their first-round matchup against the sixth-place team on Nov. 7, they would travel to Washington for the semifinals the following weekend.
2021 NWSL standings through Oct 28
|Portland Thorns||43||vs NC|
|OL Reign||39||@ KC|
|Washington Spirit||36||vs HOU|
|Chicago Red Stars||35||@ ORL|
|NJ/NY Gotham FC||34||vs LOU|
|Houston Dash||32||@ WAS|
|NC Courage||32||@ POR|
|Orlando Pride||28||vs CHI|
|Racing Louisville||21||@ NJNY|
|Kansas City||16||vs RGN|