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Standings watch: Handicapping playoff race for Angel City FC

The good news? They currently control their destiny.

NWSL: Angel City FC at Kansas City Current Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Angel City FC sit in 7th place at present in the NWSL regular season, and with the end of the campaign approaching, how does their road look to reach the playoffs in their inaugural season?

The good news is ACFC are very much in the race at this point, which is something expansion teams normally can’t say at this late stage. Even better, for now they control their destiny in getting a postseason berth, even if they are not currently in the playoff places.

The top six teams will qualify for the playoffs, so Angel City need to knock at least one team above them down the standings to make the business end of the season. But again, they have the ability to do that all on their own, which is the best case if you are a team below the playoff line.

Here’s the current points situation for teams around the playoff bubble:

That is, admittedly, pretty, pretty tight. I think Kansas City will qualify for the playoffs based on the blistering run of form they’ve been on for months at this point, but everyone else is at least in the running, including the Courage, even though they are adrift of the rest of the chasing pack.

That brings me to where Angel City have an element of control here, in that they have a game in hand on all of the teams around them at present, except North Carolina. The Courage, in fact, have two games in hand on most teams and one on Angel City (ACFC’s game in hand, in fact, will be against North Carolina in September in Cary). So if North Carolina win that game over Angel City, plus their other game in hand, they’ll be right in the mix, and if Angel City beat the Courage again, they’ll help everyone in keeping North Carolina at bay. And if ACFC beat the Courage, they’ll go above the Reign and Red Stars when the games even out.

But it’s not just about that one game, Angel City have seven games left in the regular season, so roughly a third of their slate left. A lot can happen — they could win out and really jump up in the standings, they could stumble mightily and slowly slide out of the reckoning, or do what they’ve been doing this season, staying kind of right in the middle with a mix of results. The latter option seems most likely, but time will tell, of course.

Here’s the upcoming slate and the current place in the standings for the teams to come (remember, teams in the Top 6 will qualify for the playoffs this season):

  • Saturday, Aug. 28: @ Gotham FC (12th place)
  • Sunday, Sept. 11: @ Houston Dash (3rd)
  • Wednesday, Sept. 14: @ North Carolina Courage (9th)
  • Saturday, Sept. 17: @ San Diego Wave FC (2nd)
  • Wednesday, Sept. 21: vs. Washington Spirit (11th)
  • Sunday, Sept. 25: vs. Racing Louisville (10th)
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: @ Chicago Red Stars (6th)

There are zero easy games in the NWSL in 2022, but that’s a pretty favorable run-in? Angel City play four teams below the playoff line, three of them pretty well out of the playoff race already this season, plus the team currently directly above them in the standings on the final day, so that could be a de facto playoff game if the standings remain pretty similar. But all in all, this is not a bad break of games.

On the other hand...five of the last seven games are on the road, and while ACFC have a respectable 2-2-2 record on the road so far this regular season, that mark will definitely be put to the test down the stretch. Additionally, two of the remaining six weeks of the regular season are double-game weeks for Angel City, so either the players need to stay sharp somehow or Freya Coombe will need to do some rotating of her XI.

But the point stands: For now, Angel City remain in control of their playoff destiny. If they can win, starting with this weekend’s game against Gotham FC, then they will strengthen their case and continue to control their destiny. If they don’t pick up three points? They’ll have to get other results and depend on other teams to move up and get in the playoffs, and it will be more dicey. But we’ll see how it goes for the homestretch for the Angels.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.