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NWSL playoff scenarios: Race heats up as season enters final week

Chicago's Mallory Pugh (Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NWSL’s playoff picture has begun to take shape, but with one week of the regular season remaining, a lot is still left up in the air.

Three of the league’s six postseason spots are up for grabs, with four teams still in the playoff hunt. Also on the line is a first-round bye, which goes to the top two seeds and guarantees a direct path to the semifinals. The Thorns have already clinched a first-round bye and a semifinal match at home by locking up the NWSL Shield.

Portland, OL Reign and Washington have secured their playoff spots. On the other end of the table, Orlando, Kansas City and Racing Louisville have all been eliminated from playoff contention. That leaves Chicago, Gotham FC, Houston and North Carolina fighting for the remaining three spots.

Playoff scenarios

The Chicago Red Stars, currently in fourth place in the NWSL standings, control their own postseason destiny. A win or tie against the Orlando Pride on Friday would secure the club a place in the playoffs. A loss, however, could make things interesting. If the Red Stars fall to the Pride, they will need one of the three teams remaining on the bubble to lose in order to punch their postseason ticket.

NJ/NY Gotham FC, in fifth, also controls its own path. After failing to clinch a playoff spot against Kansas City on Friday night, Gotham needs a win in one of its two remaining games, both against Racing Louisville FC, to advance.

The Houston Dash will keep their eye on North Carolina, whose outcome will determine their playoff future. Houston will look to win against Washington on Sunday, but a Dash loss and a Courage loss would still send Houston to the playoffs.

The North Carolina Courage, in seventh place heading into their regular season finale against the Thorns on Saturday, have to do the heaviest lifting to stay in postseason contention. If the Courage win and the Dash lose or tie, North Carolina will advance. A tie and a Houston loss would also likely be enough to push the Courage over the edge.

Tiebreakers: In the case of a tie, goal differential will be used to determine playoff spots. Gotham leads the pack at plus-8, while the Courage are plus-5. The Dash come in third at plus-1, and the Red Stars bring up the rear as the only team still in contention with a negative goal differential.

The final playoff push begins on Thursday as Gotham FC faces Racing Louisville FC at 7:30 pm ET on Twitch.