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NWSL Race to the Shield: San Diego Wave hold narrow lead

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Jaedyn Shaw and Alex Morgan are the San Diego Wave's leading scorers this season. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

With four games left in the 2023 NWSL regular season, the league table is getting tight at the top.

Just four points separate the first-place San Diego Wave and the sixth-place Washington Spirit. Racing Louisville and Angel City are close behind in seventh and eighth, respectively, with 24 points. The top six teams in the standings at the end of the regular season make the playoffs.

Last season’s Shield winner, OL Reign, currently sit in fourth with 27 points. But who could win it this year? Just Women’s Sports breaks it down with over a month to go.

Stock up: San Diego Wave

San Diego notched a 1-0 win over the Houston Dash on Sunday, thanks to Jaedyn Shaw’s goal, to catapult to the top of the NWSL table. Currently on a three-game win streak, the Wave are peaking with the playoffs approaching.

“To get three wins in a row in this league is really, really difficult,” said Wave assistant coach Louis Hunt. “And not something that teams do too often. So the fact that we’ve been able to do it after the run that we were on prior is massive, and it puts us in a really, really strong position.”

The Wave spent time in the No. 1 spot last season but were unable to close it out to win the NWSL Shield. This time could be different, in just their second season as an expansion franchise.

Stock down: North Carolina Courage

The Courage led the table at one point in the season, but they’ve had a rough go of it in their last four regular-season games. After losing two in a row — with Challenge Cup games taking place in between — they’ve drawn their last two. North Carolina’s last win came on July 1 against Houston.

They were close to securing a win over Gotham on Saturday, leading 3-1 into the 70th minute, before Gotham scored two late goals to pull level. One bright spot during the Courage’s winless streak has been the offense, which has scored in eight straight NWSL games and in 15 of 18 games. Only the second-place Portland Thorns have scored goals in more NWSL matches this season.

Potential sleeper: Angel City FC

No team has had a better record in its last five games than Angel City. The Los Angeles club has won their last two games, including becoming the first California team to defeat OL Reign on Aug. 27, and has gone unbeaten in their last seven under interim head coach Becki Tweed.

Sitting at 24 points, Angel City has an uphill battle to win the Shield. But if they continue on their current streak, and other dominoes fall their way, Angel City could end up as a dark-horse contender in the postseason.

Full league standings

  1. San Diego Wave, 30 pts
  2. Portland Thorns, 29 pts
  3. North Carolina Courage, 28 pts
  4. OL Reign, 27 pts
  5. Gotham FC, 27 pts
  6. Washington Spirit, 26 pts
  7. Racing Louisville, 24 pts
  8. Angel City, 24 pts
  9. Orlando Pride, 22 pts
  10. Houston Dash, 20 pts
  11. Chicago Red Stars, 20 pts
  12. Kansas City Current, 19 pts