The National Women’s Soccer League season is coming to a close. The race for a playoff spot couldn’t be hotter, and that’s especially true for the Utah Royals FC.
The Royals sit in the fourth and final playoff spot with 31 points and four games to play, starting with Wednesday’s matchup against Reign FC. The Reign also have 31 points and sit in fifth place with four games left.
There are 12 points up for grabs for Utah, which has not been shy all season about its laser-like focus on making the playoffs. The club missed the postseason by just two points in 2018.
But those 12 points might be difficult to come by when taking into account URFC’s schedule — and the schedules of its opponents — in its remaining four games. Utah will play the Reign, North Carolina Courage, Chicago Red Stars and Houston Dash to close out the season. Those four teams have a combined record of 39 wins, 26 losses and 17 draws.
The Courage and Red Stars are the top two teams in the league, and the Reign have just as much to play for as the Royals. On top of that, the first three of Utah’s remaining four games come in the span of only 10 days, with travel in between.
There are simply no simple guaranteed wins for the Royals. Even their final game against Houston, a seventh-place team, could be difficult. URFC already lost its previous two games to the Dash this season.
On the Reign’s side, they have the easiest schedule of Utah’s remaining opponents. The team that relocated to Tacoma from Seattle plays the Royals, Sky Blue, Portland Thorns and Orlando Pride to end its season. Sky Blue and Orlando are the bottom two teams in the NWSL and have won just eight games combined. And, three of the Reign’s four remaining games are at home.
The Dash, only six points behind Utah in the standings, could have a rough time to end their year. Houston has to play North Carolina, Portland, Washington and the Royals. Three of those are on the road, and the Courage and Thorns are first and third in the league, respectively.
Washington, which is only five points back from the fourth spot, likely won’t threaten the Royals. While the Spirit have five games left, four of them are on the road, and three are against the top three teams in the NWSL.
Another aspect that could determine whether the Royals make the playoffs this year will be goal differential, the second tiebreaker behind total wins if the total points are equal. At this point in the season, Utah is plus-four on goals. The Spirit are plus-three, and the Reign are minus-two.
In the last four games, Utah has scored only two goals after putting away six in the previous two. If teams behind the Royals experience a scoring surge while they continue to struggle, that could be the difference between a fourth- and fifth-place finish.
All of this in conjecture, of course. Soccer is unpredictable, and the Royals have proved to have the talent to win games. But with a key loss to Houston last weekend, Utah might have to win out in its remaining games to keep the last playoff spot.
UTAH ROYALS FC at REIGN FC
At Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Wash.
Kickoff » Wednesday, 8 p.m. MDT
Records » URFC 9-7-4 (31 points, 4th in NWSL); Reign FC 8-5-7 (31 points, 5th in NWSL)
Last meeting » URFC 3, Reign 1 (Aug. 11)
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
About Reign FC » Allie Long (left hip) and Rosie White (left hip) are questionable to play. … Bethany Balcer leads team with four goals. … Currently on a two-game undefeated streak. … Won previous home game against Utah.
About URFC » Christen Press is doubtful with a left leg injury, while Veronica Boquete is questionable with a left thigh injury. … Becca Moros (right leg), Kelley O’Hara (left ankle), Mandy Laddish (right hip) and Makenzy Doniak (left foot) are all out. … Amy Rodriguez leads team with eight goals.