The NWSL season has reached its final third, with most teams having played 16 matches out of the 24-game season. So let’s look at the current standings.
The Pride broke their two-match losing streak Saturday night with a 2-1 win over the Washington Spirit, bringing them briefly into second before the Seattle Reign secured a win later that evening. Now the Pride are in the third place spot, with the head-to-head tiebreaker over Chicago and a game in hand over the Red Stars.
I went back and took a look at the history of the league's standings to see exactly what the target for the Pride should be to garner a playoff spot. Over the years, the fourth spot has been won as follows:
- 2013 - 36 points; eight teams / 22 matches played - 55% of total points earned.
- 2014 - 35 points; nine teams / 24 matches played - 49% of total points earned.
- 2015 - 30 points; nine teams/ 20 matches played - 49% of total points earned.
- 2016 - 32 points; 10 teams / 20 matches played - 53% of total points earned.
- 2017 - 39 points; 10 teams / 24 matches played - 54% of total points earned.
Armed with five years of data, no matter what the team or match numbers were, you can see that a percentile in the low 50s is the average needed to secure a spot in the playoffs. To be exact, 37.5 points, roughly 52% of the total points, is what is needed.
I wrote earlier this year on how I believed the NWSL to be in its toughest year yet, and the table certainly looks that way. Spots two through six are only separated by five points currently and the Houston Dash can join that group as well if they pull out three points on Wednesday against the Pride.
At this point, barring something crazy, the North Carolina Courage are going to be the top seed. No one should catch them. And sorry to Sky Blue and the Washington Spirit (if healthy it may have been a different story), who have no chance at making it. That leaves a possible six teams competing for three spots. This means that the end of the season is going to be a battle each week and I expect it to come down to the last week.
So what is the Pride’s magic number? Well, by looking at the stats above you can see 39 points sits above the average needed (37.5 points would be the true average) and equals the maximum number needed since the league began. The Pride sit at 25 points currently, so that would mean they need 14 points from eight matches to hit that number. That’s four wins and two draws, which sounds reasonable for a playoff team.
So looking at the schedule here’s what I see needing to happen:
July 11 — at Houston Dash - Win (28 pts after result)
I think this is as much of a must-win as Sermanni, Leroux, and others described the game against Washington. This keeps momentum building while effectively knocking out a team.
July 14 — at Utah Royals - Draw (29 pts)
Utah has played the Pride toughly this season, with two draws already. Going on the road on short weeks isn’t easy so the Pride should look to take the draw and get back home. But if the Pride get this win, Utah could be on the outside looking in very soon.
July 21 — vs. Seattle Reign - Draw (30 pts)
This is a tough one as I hope full teams will be available, but the Tournament of Nations could have a camp like the last friendlies did. Seattle, currently second on the table, drew the Pride twice already. Again, the team should just get a point against a tough team and move on.
Aug. 5 — vs. Sky Blue FC - Win (33 pts)
Sky Blue has yet to see their first win. The Pride will not be allowed to drop points here.
Aug. 11 — vs. Portland Thorns - Draw (34 pts)
The Pride want the win here but Orlando historically has never done well against the Thorns (season series at 1-1). In a game that features two potential playoff teams, a draw at home is satisfactory.
Aug. 18 — at North Carolina Courage - Loss (34 pts)
The Courage have lost one match all year and it did come at home, but I expect a loss to a team that has yet to score fewer than three goals in both matches this season against the Pride.
Aug. 25 — vs. Chicago Red Stars - Draw (35 pts)
This game right here will be a playoff spot bloodbath. Ok, that was a hyperbole, but both teams will be coming off tough road matches with a full week to rest, and both should be above the cut line or damn close when it comes to it. The Pride have dominated the Red Stars this season with two wins by a goal differential of +5. It’s just tough to beat that good of a team three times on a season and for that reason I say draw.
Sept. 8 — at Sky Blue FC - Win (38 pts)
See above. But the only thing that worries me is the USWNT will play just before this game on Sept 4. So hopefully Alex Morgan is good to go if needed. But if the season comes down to the last week I like who the Pride are facing.
After all of that, that leaves the Pride one point short of the 54% it took to make last year’s playoffs but it’s still above the five-year average (37.5). These are simply projections, but you can see the margin for error is very small as the Pride play six out of their last eight against playoff competition.
Drop points to Sky Blue and the season could be done. Win against any of the teams I have them drawing with and the road gets a little easier. Ideally, the Pride will win some of these tougher matches, maybe even squeak a draw against the Courage so that they avoid fourth place and a road trip to North Carolina to face the best team in the league.
A tough road ahead will have the Pride fighting until the very end. So let me know your thoughts on what you think will happen, who you see them beating, and what amount of points you think the Pride will need to make a consecutive playoff appearance.