The NWSL playoff picture became a little clearer Wednesday after four results brought every team to 20 matches played in the 22-game regular season. However, there's still everything to play for with the distance between first-place and sixth-place (the final playoff position) just five points.
Alex Morgan's San Diego Wave had been leading the NWSL Shield race for a majority of the season, but the Portland Thorns took pole position last night, and clinched a spot in the playoffs, after a 3-0 hammering of already eliminated Racing Louisville.
The first goal was scored by Sophia Smith, who'd made headlines all week by putting NWSL officiating on blast through social media. The 22-year-old USWNT star punished a defensive error to move second in the league scoring chart with 12 goals (three behind Morgan).
"It's frustrating, for sure, but if I let it get to me it'll affect how I play," Smith said after the match when questioned on the refs. "I try to not think about it too much going into the games and accepting the fact that I'll probably be getting fouled left and right. I don't want to get fined ... but it's not gonna get called."
Just one minute after the opener, 23-year-old Sam Coffey — who made her USWNT debut on Sep. 6 against Nigeria — got her first league goal with a nice finish inside the area.
17-year-old Olivia Moultrie put the game to bed in the 56th with her third goal of the season. Rocky Rodríguez created the opportunity with a flicked header, but the teenage sensation still had a lot of work to do.
And guess who's back? In the 79th minute, Crystal Dunn made her 2022 Providence Park debut (she previously played four minutes at Orlando on Sep. 9 after giving birth to Marcel Jean Soubrier on May 20).
A standing ovation for @Cdunn19 in her first game back at Providence Park.Chills. pic.twitter.com/WZ4dt9jMuV
— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) September 22, 2022
What a night! 3 pts! And my son smiling at me as i walk off the field
pic.twitter.com/T9yYdK3Bp6— Crystal Dunn | Soubrier | (@Cdunn19) September 22, 2022
Portland can be certain of defending its Shield with wins over sixth-place Chicago (Sep. 25) and last-place Gotham FC (Oct. 1).