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NWSL playoffs: What to know heading into the first round

Houston Dash players run back to midfield after a goal during the 2022 season. (Ira L. Black/Getty Images)

And just like that, after five chaotic months of regular-season action, it’s time for the NWSL playoffs.

The 2022 postseason kicks off Sunday, starting with the Houston Dash hosting the Kansas City Current at 5 p.m. ET at PNC Stadium in front of the largest crowd in Dash history – more than 14,000 fans. The Chicago Red Stars and San Diego Wave follow at 10 p.m. ET at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium.

The winner of the first game plays this season’s Shield winners, OL Reign, in the semifinal round on Oct. 23, while the winner of the second plays the No. 2 Portland Thorns on the same day.

With five of the six playoff teams finishing the regular season within four points of each other, anything can happen on the road to the championship. While we wait in the calm before the storm, here’s a quick look at each quarterfinal matchup.

(Amy Kontras/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 4 Houston Dash vs. No. 5 Kansas City Current

Dash (10-6-6, GD: +8)

  • This is Houston’s first playoff appearance in franchise history.
  • The Dash rank second in the league, behind just the Reign, in possessions won in the final third.
  • Houston scored two goals or more in nine of their 10 wins during regular season.

Current (10-6-6, GD: 0)

  • This is Kansas City’s first playoff appearance, and the first by a Kansas City club since FC Kansas City made the postseason in 2015.
  • The Current went on a 13-game undefeated streak this season after not recording a win in their first five matches.
  • The Current rank first in the NWSL in penalties awarded (seven).

Evenly matched with identical records in the regular season, the Dash and the Current are about to play an unpredictable game.

Each team had a win in their two previous meetings this season, with Houston taking a 2-0 result the first time around and Kansas City getting revenge with a 2-1 victory. The Current won both games the teams played against each other in the 2022 Challenge Cup.

The Current have built a strong attack led by Lo’eau Labonta, Cece Kizer and Hailie Mace, and they are backed by one of the most reliable goalkeepers in the league in AD Franch.

But will they stick to their 3-5-2 formation against Houston’s potent offense? The Dash are arguably more lethal than the Current, with Ebony Salmon, María Sánchez and Nichelle Prince leading the way.

Kansas City’s three-defender lineup could run into trouble against a scoring machine like Houston, who rank second among the playoff teams in goals (35). And the Current will be without defensive midfielder Desiree Scott, who received two yellow cards in Kansas City’s last game against Racing Louisville and therefore has to sit out the first-round match.

Prediction: Kansas City. The odds may not feel like they’re in the Current’s favor. But they didn’t feel like that at the beginning of the season either, when Kansas City went without a win in its first five games — then proceeded to record a 13-game unbeaten streak.

(Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 3 San Diego Wave FC vs. No. 6 Chicago Red Stars

Wave (10-6-6, GD: +11)

  • San Diego is the first NWSL expansion team to reach the playoffs in its first season.
  • The Wave rank first in the league in clean sheets with nine.
  • The Wave get to host the match at their home field, Snapdragon Stadium, where they broke the NWSL single-game attendance record in September with a sold-out crowd of 32,000 fans.

Red Stars (9-7-6, GD: +6)

  • This marks Chicago’s seventh straight year in the playoffs.
  • The Red Stars rank third in the league in possession with an average of 52 percent.
  • Their longest unbeaten streak this season was nine games.

San Diego has more reason for confidence going into this match. The Wave came out on top in both of their games against the Red Stars during regular season, winning 2-1 and 1-0. In addition to a strong starting lineup, the Wave have game changers off the bench who can and have made a direct impact on the scoresheet.

Still, the Red Stars have developed a chemistry that could push through San Diego’s steady defense, especially with their deadly weapon Mallory Pugh. Her abilities, from goal scoring to dribbling to tackling, enable her to dictate games better than any player in the NWSL.

Prediction: San Diego. The Wave won both their previous games against the Red Stars and will win a third at home in front of an electric Snapdragon Stadium audience.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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