The San Diego Wave are without some key players, and they don’t expect to get them back anytime soon. 

Alex Morgan, Sofia Jakobsson, Melanie Barcenas, Abby Dahlkemper, and Naomi Girma are all currently on the team’s injury list. On Monday, head coach Casey Stoney was asked if she expected any of them to return to the pitch in the near future. 

"No, unfortunately not," was her response. The Wave is set to play Utah on Wednesday.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Just Women’s Sports (@justwomenssports)

While Stoney hasn't yet provided anything else definitive, absences from Morgan and Girma leave behind a pretty big hole in the team roster, particularly with the Olympics — not to mention the preceding USWNT send-off friendlies — just around the corner. Morgan has been sidelined with ankle trouble since the team's late April match against Orlando, while Girma’s first game on the injury list was against Seattle. 

Stoney, however, has said that the Wave doesn’t play any differently with or without the missing players.

"It doesn’t really affect the way we play," she said following the team’s recent loss to Seattle. "We just needed to have more patience. We still had some senior players out there tonight that could have impacted that and needed to impact that and did in the second half."

San Diego currently sits in 10th place with seven points, having won two games in their last five matches.

USWNT stalwart Alex Morgan will miss at least one week of NWSL action after suffering a left ankle knock in her last club appearance, Wave manager Casey Stoney said on Thursday.

Morgan was helped off the field after rolling her ankle in the later stages of the Wave’s 1-0 loss to the Orlando Pride last weekend, despite the San Diego side being out of available substitutes.

“She's got an ankle injury and she's out for this weekend, and then it'll be week by week from there,” Stoney said, confirming that Morgan’s been ruled out for Saturday’s showdown with NWSL newcomer Bay FC.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Just Women’s Sports (@justwomenssports)

Depending on its severity, Morgan’s ankle issue might have larger ramifications than missing a few weeks of NSWL play. Morgan was added to the team's Gold Cup roster after an ACL injury sidelined young striker Mia Fishel, and she's since made a number of USWNT starts in the team's Gold Cup and SheBelieves wins. A long-term injury could potentially derail the center forward’s Olympic plans.

With her return timeline uncertain, it's possible the injury could also impact Morgan's ability to participate in new head coach Emma Hayes' first U.S. friendlies in June and July.

Morgan's injury concerns aren't uncommon in the U.S. player pool, but add a sense of urgency as Hayes eyes the NWSL for top-performing players in the upcoming weeks. Gotham's Tierna Davidson and Rose Lavelle have also been dealing with injuries: Lavelle has yet to appear for Gotham, while Davidson exited last weekend's match early with a hamstring injury.

Gotham has yet to issue an update concerning Davidson's status.

Casey Stoney is staying in San Diego, signing a multi-year contract extension with the San Diego Wave through 2027 with a mutual option year in 2028.

“When we brought Casey on board, we were confident that her exceptional leadership qualities, coupled with her extensive experience as both a player and coach at the highest levels, would make her the perfect fit for San Diego, and she has more than exceeded our high expectations,” Wave President Jill Ellis said in a team statement.

“Her commitment and passion for winning, developing our young players, and her loyalty to this club and city speaks volumes to who she is as a coach and as a person.”

The extension clearly signals Stoney’s intention to stay in the NWSL for the foreseeable future despite being in the mix for other positions in recent years. Most notably in 2024, her name had been brought up as a candidate to replace incoming USWNT manager Emma Hayes at Chelsea FC in the WSL, where Stoney most recently managed Manchester United.

She was subsequently reported as having withdrawn her name from consideration for the Chelsea job by the Sunday Times.

Now, Stoney feels she can make a statement with definitive terms that will bring stability and focus to the Wave as they kick off NWSL preseason.

“It stops the rumors, which is really important when we’re trying to recruit players,” Stoney tells Just Women’s Sports. “It enables me to be settled, obviously my family here as well, which shows the club’s commitment to me and I’m fully committed to the club.”

A settled life in San Diego has been hard-earned for the 41-year-old; it took 22 months for Stoney’s family to make the permanent move to California from England, a difficult separation that she has little desire to revisit. “I think people need to sometimes just consider all aspects,” she says.

“I’ve got three young children and a partner that are massively supportive. But to move them continents across the world to then potentially be linked with rumors going somewhere else, it’s difficult for my partner as well. But we always have very open and honest conversations, there was never any doubt about me being committed here.”

Possibilities of a coach going elsewhere can also affect a club’s ability to recruit talent, and Stoney says she wasn’t afraid to answer obvious questions by prospective signings. “I’ll always be honest with the players, like I’m naturally going to get linked to certain jobs, because I’ve either played for the club or managed the club,” she says. Stoney played for Chelsea from 2007-11, and temporarily served as player-manager in 2009 following the resignation of Steve Jones.

“When jobs open up, obviously being a female coach and being in the game you naturally get linked. My job is to stay focused on how I develop this team, develop these players and stay committed to what I believe in, which is what we’re building here.”

The Wave have allowed a league-low 43 goals across 2022 and 2023 under Stoney's leadership (Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports)

Stoney has already overseen unprecedented success for an NWSL expansion side, winning the league Shield with San Diego in the club’s second year of existence. She boasts a 21-10-13 record, and has comfortably made the NWSL playoffs in both years at the helm of the team.

She also joins Seattle Reign head coach Laura Harvey in emphasizing her desire to keep building in the NWSL despite outside interest, as clubs in the league work to remain competitive in attracting and retaining top coaching talent. That loyalty could possibly pay off for everyone, with the NWSL poised to take a tactical leap forward in 2024.

“This is the most competitive league in the world. You come here, you’re going to have a fierce competition every single week,” Stoney says. “There’s no big score-lines, it’s competitive, it’s fast, it’s athletic. What we’re trying to do is add more tactical nuance to the game, and I think with the coaches that are in the game now, I think it’s the strongest it’s been.”

She notes top coaching talent like Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez taking over at the Washington Spirit as an inflection point for managerial investment, as well as recent international players like Esther joining the NWSL and equating it to “Champions League football, every single week” as a testament to the league’s selling points.

“I’m fascinated to see how [Giráldez] can gel the players that he’s got into the style of play that he likes to play,” she says, noting that the NWSL’s challenges (like cross-country travel) can be unique. “It’s a very different beast here, and I’m just really interested — I know he’ll get time and hopefully patience, because he’s gonna need a few windows, I think, to build his team out with the way he wants to play.”

For Stoney however, her goals going into the 2024 season are clear: keep developing players, and keep winning. “What the future holds? Who knows,” she says. “You’re only ever as good as your last season anyways. I’m gonna work hard to stay successful here, and make sure that I make it a success.”

“I’m very aware this is a job where you don’t have a lot of security, you have to work to keep it. So my challenge is staying in this job as long as possible, developing my players, and making sure that our team is successful and this club is successful.”

Three hundred and sixty six-days after undergoing back surgery and 599 since her last cap, Abby Dahlkemper returned to the pitch for the U.S. women’s national team on Dec. 2 as part of the starting XI.

The 30-year-old defender last appeared in stars and stripes on April 12, 2022, in a friendly against Uzbekistan. And after so much time away, she was thrilled to return to international play.

“Just grateful beyond words and just thankful for this opportunity,” Dahlkemper told TNT following the match. 

Before her long absence from the field, Dahlkemper experienced back spasms and spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the spine. The 30-year-old defender realized she needed back surgery in the middle of a game for the San Diego Wave, her NWSL squad. And then last November, Dahlkemper underwent spinal fusion surgery and spent nearly a year recovering. 

“It was scary once I got the surgery and got it done because I just didn’t know how I was going to heal, like if I was ever going to be able to get like a full rotation and this and that in my back,” Dahlkemper said in September. “But I feel like my body has adjusted well and coming back, I feel like I haven’t really missed a beat.”

Dahlkemper scored in her third game back for the Wave, and she played all 90 minutes for the USWNT against China. So the 2019 World Cup champion seems to be back to her pre-injury form.

“You just trust the process and control what you can,” Dahlkemper said. “And here I am. Just unbelievably grateful and thankful but excited to play with this team again.”

The NWSL semifinals kick off on Sunday, as OL Reign travels to San Diego to take on the No. 1 Wave and Gotham FC goes up against the No. 2 Portland Thorns. The schedule leading up to the second round of the 2023 playoffs has been disjointed, with an international break causing the semifinals to be played two weeks after the quarterfinal matches.

The pause puts each club in a unique position. They’re going to have to manage the tired legs of their international stars while also re-engaging those who haven’t played a competitive match for up to three weeks.

Here’s where each team stands on the momentum scale, and here’s how they can find their way through a semifinal.

No. 1 San Diego Wave

The Wave are in an interesting position going into their first playoff game of the 2023 postseason. They haven’t played a match together since Oct. 15, and they’ve had a number of players away for international duty over the past week. Despite finishing the season as the Shield winners, they haven’t beaten the Reign once in 2023, and the Seattle side has to feel good about a chance at an upset.

All signs, however, point to San Diego having enough positive energy to find their breakthrough against the Reign when it matters most. In their final regular season game, they clinched the team’s first-ever NWSL Shield with a comprehensive win over Racing Louisville. USWNT star Alex Morgan and rising star Jaedyn Shaw scored in that match and carried their momentum into the international break. Shaw, in particular, impressed at the international level, earning her first two caps and scoring her first goal for the U.S. senior team.

Other San Diego mainstays also seem sufficiently played-in despite the break. Kailen Sheridan appeared in one match for Canada against Brazil this week, while Naomi Girma held down the USWNT backline with her usual consistency. Forward Kyra Carusa also scored a huge goal to bolster Ireland in Nations League action. It speaks to San Diego’s roster construction that so many international standouts will be featured in their postseason run, and if manager Casey Stoney can manage tired legs, they have a real shot at playing in the championship game at home.

Megan Rapinoe is playing in her final season for OL Reign. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

No. 4 OL Reign

The Reign enter their semifinal on an unbeaten streak that has extended over a month. They had a big win in their regular season finale, 3-0 over Chicago, and gritted out a cagey match against Angel City in the quarterfinals. The pace of that match never fully opened up, meaning the Reign should have had ample time for recovery over the past two weeks.

But if San Diego is dealing with tired legs, the Reign might have a few players feeling even more fatigued with a short turnaround. Center back Alana Cook played two full 90-minute games with the USWNT, and defensive midfielder Emily Sonnett carried the most minutes at the No. 6 than any of her U.S. teammates. Jess Fishlock played two full matches with Wales, while Quinn and Jordan Huitema both got minutes for Canada. Their consistency in playing time will be an asset, but with little time off since the end of the regular season, manager Laura Harvey may have to get strategic with minutes for some of her key contributors.

The Reign’s capacity to weather the storm is twofold: They have players who didn’t travel for international duty, and their preferred style of play should suit them. Rose Lavelle was allowed to stay with her club over the break, continuing to build her fitness from an injury after making a return in the quarterfinal. Megan Rapinoe also stayed with the Reign after retiring from the USWNT in September. OL Reign plays a pragmatic, methodical tempo, as seen in their quarterfinal win. Their ability to hold onto the ball, retain their shape and keep the game in front of them — rather than turning it into a footrace — will work in their favor.

My pick

San Diego Wave over OL Reign, 1-0

Sophia Smith is back in the mix for the Thorns after recovering from an MCL sprain. (Soobum Im/Getty Images)

No. 2 Portland Thorns

The Thorns might be the most displeased with the postseason format this year, despite earning a quarterfinal bye with their second-straight second-place finish in the NWSL table. Their regular season ended on a sour note — a 5-1 dismantling at the hands of Angel City. The Thorns haven’t played since, and have sat on that defeat for three weeks as they prepare to host quarterfinalists Gotham FC.

Portland’s players called up for international duty had interesting experiences. Defensive midfielder Sam Coffey again struggled to get on the pitch for the USWNT continued, only seeing the field in the second half of the team’s second game. Forward Sophia Smith continued to build minutes in her return from an MCL sprain, playing 45 minutes on Sunday in her longest stretch since the injury. Midfielder Olivia Moultrie, appearing on her first senior team roster, did not register any minutes throughout the break.

The Thorns also have players who will be fighting fatigue. Crystal Dunn started both U.S. games at her less-preferred outside-back position, and key playmaker Hina Sugita will only have a few days to recover after Japan’s Olympic qualifying round in Uzbekistan. Outside back Natalia Kuikka will be dealing with similar travel fatigue after coming back from Finland’s matches in Croatia. While Becky Sauerbrunn returned to the USWNT fold at just the right time for Portland, who struggled defensively in their season finale, the Thorns might be balancing the worst of the “rest or rust” dichotomy.

Gotham players have said they're trying to win a title for Ali Krieger in her last season. (Jonathan Jones/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 6 Gotham FC

Another thing that could concern Portland is Gotham might be the best set up of all semifinalists to carry their momentum into the semifinals. Gotham walked away from their regular season finale somewhat disappointed, settling for a draw against the eliminated Kansas City Current that pushed them into the final playoff spot and out of hosting a game.

But they bounced back with gusto, traveling to North Carolina and blanking the No. 3 seed Courage 2-0 behind goals from Delanie Sheehan and Yazmeen Ryan. The team’s ethos was on full display in the win, with their defending along the frontline wreaking havoc and forcing turnovers that spilled over into goal-scoring chances. Forward Lynn Williams carried that into one game for the U.S. this week, staying in rhythm without pushing into the red zone with too many minutes played. Forward Esther González also got a break during Spain’s final Nations League game this week.

Forward Midge Purce did not see the field for the U.S., and Bruninha was used sparingly as a substitute for Brazil in their friendlies against Canada. But the Gotham backline has remained mostly intact to train with their club. Gotham will have to embrace both an underdog and a road warrior mentality to stay on the West Coast as a finalist, but they have to feel like they have the right group to force an upset.

My pick

Gotham FC over Portland Thorns, 2-1

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

As it has grown over the last decade, the NWSL hasn’t had much reason to associate success with any one particular part of the country. In a league still too small for conferences, clubs that excelled in the early years came from all corners, with storied organizations like North Carolina, Seattle, Portland and Chicago frequently making appearances in the postseason. Parity-based entry rules and national team allocation provided clubs with opportunities to remain competitive without always having to pitch themselves to players, who became used to their summer homes differing from their preferred places to live year-round.

But with 2023 marking the final year of the 12-team NWSL, and perhaps the last of the Challenge Cup divided into a regional group stage, the axis of the league appears to be tipping in one direction: West. Aggressive expansion in California and the onset of NWSL free agency have mixed with the historical excellence of founding clubs in the region and put the rest of the league on notice.

The 2023 postseason could also extend the most successful year for the region to date. All four of the Challenge Cup Western Division teams — Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego — will feature in the NWSL’s six-team playoffs, with at least one team from the group guaranteed to advance to the Championship (which will, of course, be played in San Diego).

Correlation and causation might be difficult to parse, but with further Western expansion on the horizon, it appears that the best NWSL coast might be the West Coast, at least for the time being.

California dreamin’

While Portland and Seattle have always been known as perennial contenders, the introduction of California clubs has seemed to ignite what was already a hotbed of soccer fandom and talent. Pulling from both the local and free agency market, the San Diego Wave have garnered unprecedented success as an expansion side, making the playoffs in their inaugural year and winning the Shield in their second.

From the beginning, San Diego was able to draw in homegrown stars like Alex Morgan and Abby Dahlkemper while also becoming a destination for other free agents looking for a fresh start. Their gritty and defensive style of play has been clear from their first season, personified in the immediate success of 2022 top draft pick Naomi Girma.

Angel City has taken a slightly longer route, having been something of a little sister on the pitch to their SoCal rivals since both clubs entered the league in 2022. But their recent surge indicates they might be beginning to catch up. Los Angeles was similarly able to appeal to L.A. natives Sydney Leroux and Christen Press, who has missed the majority of the club’s two seasons due to injury. There’s also young local talent like Alyssa Thompson, who went pro early to join her hometown team as a No. 1 draft pick.

Now under the leadership of interim manager Becki Tweed, Angel City has started to meet some of the big expectations they set for themselves, beginning with the team’s first playoff appearance in 2023.

Both clubs have had material advantages in the free agency race, including a desirable location and the strength of youth soccer in the area. But also key to their success are the dedicated fan bases they’ve cultivated in just a few years’ time. San Diego averaged over 20,000 fans a game in 2023, as only the second club to ever reach that attendance milestone (Portland, another Western team, was the first). Angel City’s season ticket holder base has been incredibly strong since their first game at BMO Stadium, and they seem at times to be held back by the capacity of their venue.

The story of the California clubs and their impressive ownership groups got fans in seats, but winning is what keeps people around. With Bay Area expansion side Bay FC entering the NWSL in 2024, California sides will continue to present a new opportunity and draw from the region’s rich women’s soccer history at both the college and professional levels.

The Portland Thorns and OL Reign have laid the foundation for NWSL fandom on the West Coast. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

Old meets new

With the two California teams’ ascension into the postseason, the 2023 playoffs present an exciting opportunity to watch new ambitions meet old expectations. OL Reign have played in two NWSL Championships, and are known as one of the steadiest clubs on the pitch in league history. But they haven’t won a playoff game since 2016, and they’ll have to get through Angel City to have a shot at a long-elusive championship title. The winner of Friday’s matchup between the Reign and Angel City will then have to take on San Diego for the honor of staying in town to play the final.

Much has been made about Seattle’s “OG” trio of Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Barnes and Jess Fishlock in the context of Rapinoe’s looming retirement. OL Reign might relish the opportunity to teach a much newer club what it takes to survive the NWSL postseason. Angel City will likewise want to render Seattle’s season a disappointment and usher in a new era for both teams.

San Diego will have their sights on winning a double after clinching the first trophy in club history, but reigning champions Portland will equally be eager to return to the final. After a quarterfinal bye, their semifinal matchup will be against one of two Eastern teams ready to crash the party in Gotham FC or the North Carolina Courage.

The only NWSL club to have earned three stars over their crest, the Thorns present something of a team in transition. They’ve weathered the prolonged sale of the club with a hyper-talented roster and a somewhat inexperienced coaching staff. They have the firepower to go back-to-back but sometimes appear to rely too much on the style of play that served them better in 2022. They have definitive wins over the Reign in 2023, but their record against the California sides is rockier.

We could see an all-Western final in November, which would feel like an accurate representation of the powerhouses in the NWSL this year. No matter what, the 2023 playoffs will be a coastal affair, and with the intention of growing to 16 teams in 2026, regional ties are beginning to form. It’s all good for the league, especially in a new era of player choice and freedom.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

The San Diego Wave have checked off one box on their to-do list. But they still have one big task left in 2023.

The Wave took home the NWSL Shield, finishing the regular season atop the league table with 37 points. But there is one more big trophy they have yet to win.

“Having this title, we want to continue to move forward, we want to win the whole thing,” star forward Alex Morgan said after Sunday’s regular-season finale. “The Shield is amazing, we’re going to celebrate that. But we also wanna have a championship as well and bring it to San Diego.”

No WNBA, NFL, NBA or NHL team resides in San Diego. The NFL’s Chargers – back when they played in San Diego – won an American Football League Championship in 1963. But no other major professional sports team has won a title for the city.

It’s the largest city in America to have not won the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals or Stanley Cup. (The MLB’s San Diego Padres won National League pennants in 1984 and 1998, but have never won a World Series.)

“I don’t know even in soccer or out of soccer if there have been many – or any – championships here in San Diego,” Morgan said. “So we want to be that team, we want to be the women’s team that leads San Diego to a championship.”

Both the semifinal match and the championship match will be hosted at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium, which could make the playoff run even more special.

Morgan also extended an open invitation to Taylor Swift for the postseason. The 12-time Grammy-winning superstar is a known friend of Morgan and a fan of the USWNT, and she has been spending a lot of time in recent weeks at Kansas City Chiefs games.

“There is an open invitation, always,” she said. “American football games are fun, but real football is more fun I think.”

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.”

NWSL team valuations continue to soar, according to new calculations from Sportico.

Not a single team’s market value is below $40 million, per Sportico’s market value calculations. The Chicago Red Stars are at the bottom of the ranking at that amount, and the median valuation sits at $51 million.

Angel City FC is atop the table with a valuation of $180 million, double that of the second-place San Diego Wave. The two California clubs joined the league in 2022 but have established themselves as premier franchises — a promising indicator for Bay FC, which will join the NWSL in 2024 with a $125 million investment from the start.

In terms of revenue, Angel City is bringing in an estimated $31 million in 2023, while San Diego is bringing in $16.3 million. Angel City is raising money at valuations approaching $200 million, according to Sportico, and has the goal of becoming the first billion-dollar club in women’s sports.

For Angel City investor Alexis Ohanian, the increase in valuation across the league shows the commitment of the league’s new era of owners. Four franchises have joined the league since 2021, and two more are coming in 2024.

“There was pent-up energy for treating women’s professional soccer in America like a real business with big enterprise value ambitions,” Ohanian told Sportico. “There’s now a lot more people who see this potential and have been pushing forward on it, and I love it.”

Michele Kang is one of the league’s newest owners, having bought the Spirit for $35 million in 2022. Now, the club is valued at $54 million, with Kang planning even more investment for the team.

Laura Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, led a group in purchasing the Red Stars at a $35.5 million valuation. The group intends to invest $25 million in upgrades, which could up the Red Stars’ value.

And all of the clubs could see an even bigger increase beyond their own revenue and fundraising, as the league is in the midst of securing new media rights deals that could represent a financial windfall.

“We’re still in the early days,” Ohanian said about the league overall, “and there’s a lot more.”

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