The Portland Thorns could have made thing simple for themselves Sunday.
It was almost a win and you're in scenario.
Instead, the Thorns inexplicably lost to the Boston Breakers, the league's worst squad and winners of 4 matches all season, starting out flat and chasing for most of the match.
It wasn't that the Thorns didn't have their chances. They put 15 shots at Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and she saved all 10 that went on frame and made enough of a challenge on a few others to make the likes of Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair miss what should be chip-shots that they just could put in the back of the net.
It was an impressive performance, one that should increase her stock in the USWNT picture as we near a World Cup year.
For the Thorns though, it was another frustrating loss to a bottom-feeder, their fifth such loss of the year to the likes of Boston (1-2-0), Sky Blue FC (0-2-1), and Western New York (1-1-1), three of the current bottom four teams in the NWSL.
This match was a continuation of a frustrating trend for the Thorns. Their losses have gone of four ways this season: last-minute loss; blowout, simply not showing up, or squandering their opportunities.
This loss clearly falls into the latter category: the Thorns more than had their chances, they just couldn't put them away, and it seemed to be a systemic problem for them.
Yes, Boston plays on a horrible narrow American football field that has no place in a top-flight league, but if that was an excuse in their first time at Harvard Stadium, they have no reason to make it on the return trip.
The problems seems to come down more to a lack of tactical changes during the match despite things clearly not working, a problem that has shown up in more than a few matches this season.
Whether this is a coaching issue, a tactical issue, a player issue, or Boston finding the perfect system to break up the Thorns attack, it's hard to pinpoint one, and hopefully this will be a match that they dwell on in the off-season.
The reality for the Thorns is this: they simply may not be in contention for the playoffs by Sunday's meeting with the Reign.
Chicago has two matches remaining. If they win both of those and the Spirit do so as well, it's all over for the Thorns, an embarrassing worst-case scenario for the Thorns.
Even if the Red Stars win/draw or draw/draw, the Thorns need to win or draw in order to not be passed up by the Red Stars, who currently have a greater goal differential than the Thorns at the moment (+4 vs. +3), the second tie-breaker in the NWSL.
Then again, everything could fall their way. The Red Stars could collapse against the Breakers and Flash at home and the Spirit could fall to Sky Blue, and they take care of business against the Reign,
earning at least a draw, which would be enough put the Thorns in third (the first tie-breaker is head-to-head).
This has been a strange, up and down season for the Thorns.
If they fail to make the playoffs they have no one to blame but themselves.