While helping Ireland's National Team qualify for the World Cup playoffs, star midfielder Denise O'Sullivan also has a chance to lead her American team, North Carolina Courage, to the NWSL playoffs.
If Courage wins their next game, against the San Diego Wave, they're into the playoffs, and a draw or a loss may still leave them in the running, depending on other teams' results this weekend.
Courage spent three consecutive months in 12th place at the bottom of the table — due to scheduling issues early one that left them with some games in hand as much as to losses — but it has climbed to sixth place in the last month and a half, and is now viewed as one of the most competitive teams in the league.
The team won the league championship in 2018 and 2019 but was rocked by scandal last year when coach Paul Riley was fired after allegations of sexual coercion; O'Sullivan spoke out at the time in support of the players who made the allegations.
O'Sullivan has been under the spotlight even more than usual after scoring the only goal for Ireland's national team in their 1-0 defeat of Slovakia, which ensured that Ireland will skip the first round of the World Cup playoffs.
The Wave, which Courage will face Friday Sept. 30th, currently sits two spots above Courage in fourth place and is already guaranteed a spot at the playoffs, but the team has been weakened by injuries: players Abby Dahlkemper and Taylor Kornieck were both injured in the game against Orlando Pride Sunday Sept. 25th.
The NWSL has been shockingly competitive this year, the tenth since its creation: only a week ago a six-way tie for first was possible. Things have since solidified slightly, but two slots in the six-team playoffs are still up for grabs and three teams are still in competition for the NWSL Shield, which is awarded to the top team of the regular season.