To say the NWSL playoff race is tight would be an understatement, with just five points separating third and eighth in the standings after Wednesday Oct, 13’s first three games. With the top-six teams making the playoffs, two of those teams are set to narrowly miss out.
Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Washington’s Spirit brought the North Carolina Courage ever closer to being one of those two teams. With two games left to play this season, however, the Courage sit in sixth, just inside the playoff picture but with the Orlando Pride and NJ/NY Goham FC breathing down their neck.
For a while, the Courage looked to be more likely to challenge for the Shield than battle for the last few remaining playoffs spots, but the team has dropped four of their last five games, with the lone win coming against ninth-place Racing Louisville FC.
Right now, however, there are more important things for Courage interim head coach Sean Nahas than winning games.
“Take the results out of it,” Nahas said. “I’m not worried about the results. Yes, I mean I am but I'm not in the overall arching thing. Just because I feel like these players had a choice. They can go in a downward spiral or they can play some of the best soccer they've played all season.”
The Courage’s two remaining games are at home against NJ/NY Gotham FC, one of the teams they are battling with for a playoff spot, and at the Portland Thorns, one of the two west-coast squads competing for the Shield.
Shipping goals directly after poorly placed clearances on either side of a 60th-minute Meredith Speck equalizer, sloppy play at the back cost the Courage in a crucial matchup.
“The two goals are really unfortunate,” said Kaleigh Kurtz. “Poor missed clearance by me on the first one and then we didn't block it and [goalkeeper Casey Murphy] was screened on the second one. So that's really unfortunate. But I think there were more positive takeaways than negative takeaways in this game. It's just really disappointing to have that kind of grit and fight for 90 minutes and not even get a point out of it.”
Like Kurtz, Nahas was pleased with the overall performance and the improvement his team showed from Sunday’s 4-1 loss in Houston.
“I thought it was one of our best performances in a long time…” Nahas said. “We created some good chances, their chances came off of broken plays and second phases. … We felt we dropped points there.”
The Courage will return to WakeMed Soccer Park on Sunday, Oct. 17, taking on NJ/NY Gotham FC in a massive game between two teams vying for that final playoff spot.