In just their second year as a team, the San Diego Wave have won the NWSL Shield.

Sunday’s 2-0 win over Racing Louisville pushed the Wave into the top spot in the standings, and then the Portland Thorns’ 5-1 loss to Angel City FC sealed San Diego’s place atop the regular-season standings.

So at the end of the NWSL’s first Decision Day, the Shield was presented to the Wave. They finished with 37 points and a record of 11-4-7 (W-D-L). The Thorns finished in second place with 35 points.

In San Diego’s first season as an expansion team in 2022, the club finished third in the league. In 2023, the Wave were even better.

The season-ending win also proved poetic, with Alex Morgan and Jaedyn Shaw scoring for San Diego. They’re the top two scorers for the Wave this season, and perhaps there was no better way to close out the campaign than with goals from their veteran leader and their 18-year-old star.

For Morgan, winning the NWSL Shield in the team’s second year represents “quite an accomplishment.”

“I was just thinking, ‘F*** yeah,’ just so proud of this team,” the 34-year-old forward said after the game. “It’s quite an accomplishment to be able to do this in the second year for an expansion team.

“We know that we have this special opportunity to host the final, and we want to be there. We want to be that team that leads San Diego to a championship.”

With the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs, the Wave are cresting at just the right time. And the NWSL Championship match is set for 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Nov. 11, at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium, so if they live up to their seeding, they will host the final on their home turf.

And while head coach Casey Stoney knows what the NWSL Shield means, she also knows that it makes her team an even bigger target in the playoffs. But she’s not letting that deter the Wave.

“We will be the team to beat,” she said. “We should be the team to beat because we just won the Shield.”

With just two games left in the regular season, the race for the NWSL Shield is coming down to the wire.

Just five points separate first-place San Diego and sixth-place OL Reign — and mathematically, no team has been eliminated from the playoffs yet. That means that the final two weekends of the regular season will be a race to the finish line. The top six teams in the standings at the end of the regular season will make the playoffs.

OL Reign have dropped off in recent weeks, which leaves them just barely hanging on to the final playoff spot with 28 points. The San Diego Wave, meanwhile, have jumped back into the top spot of the league rankings.

Stock up: San Diego Wave

Once again, San Diego is trending upward, back atop the NWSL standings courtesy of Saturday’s 2-0 win against second-place Portland. Star forward Alex Morgan got her first goal in four months, a good sign for the Wave as they became the first (and, so far, only) team to clinch a spot in the playoffs.

“All-around, it was a huge performance from every single one of us,” midfielder Danielle Colaprico said after the game.

And now, San Diego is setting its sights on its next goal: the NWSL Shield. The Wave are playing in just their second season since joining the league as an expansion franchise, but they have won four of their last five matches.

“I can’t speak highly enough of my squad tonight,” San Diego head coach Casey Stoney said. “I think they bought in, they were engaged, they were focused. They worked so hard, and I thought they deserved the win tonight.

“Now it’s about that mentality next week, because yes we clinched playoffs, great, but what can we now achieve? That’s the standard that we’ve set tonight and really, really proud of them.”

Stock down: OL Reign

OL Reign managed to hold onto their playoff spot by their fingernails Sunday in a 1-1 draw with the North Carolina Courage. But the reigning NWSL Shield winners have managed just four points in their last five games, and they aren’t coming up with the wins needed to secure a playoff spot, let alone the prize for the best team of the regular season.

With several teams, including the Houston Dash and Angel City FC, hot on their heels, OL Reign is going to have to find a spark if they want to send off retiring star Megan Rapinoe with an NWSL championship. But the Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars likely will provide tough challenges to close out season.

Potential sleeper: Nobody

Recent run of play makes it difficult to find a potential sleeper for the Shield. While many teams are in the mix for the playoffs, several of the teams in postseason position are just trying to hold onto their spots.

Gotham FC are in third place, but they have won just one game in their last five — but that is better than fourth-place North Carolina, which has won zero. While the Spirit won this weekend, they went winless in the four games before that. Angel City FC have not lost in five games, but clinching the Shield is a mathematical impossibility. Even winning their last two matches would bring them to just 31 points – less than the Wave’s 33.

At this point, the NWSL Shield looks like San Diego’s to lose.

NWSL standings (Oct. 2, 2023)

  1. San Diego Wave, 33 points
  2. Portland Thorns, 32
  3. Gotham FC, 30
  4. North Carolina Courage, 29
  5. Washington Spirit, 29
  6. OL Reign, 28
  7. Houston Dash, 26
  8. Orlando Pride, 25
  9. Angel City, 25
  10. Racing Louisville, 24
  11. Chicago Red Stars, 24
  12. Kansas City Current, 22

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