By MIKE McCALL
At this early stage in the National Women’s Soccer League season, the title race is starting to take shape.
The Thorns are good, the Reign are bad (at least until reinforcements come), and teams like Sky Blue FC and FC Kansas City might just have what it takes to challenge the favorites in Portland.
That third part is the most intriguing, and that’s why this weekend’s NWSL action is really all about one game. The Thorns and Flash go against the league’s bottom two teams, and while the Breakers-Spirit game could get interesting, the showdown between FCKC and SBFC is the one to watch.
For a deeper look at all four, here are the matchups (all times local):
WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH vs. CHICAGO RED STARS (Friday, 7:05 pm)
The winless Red Stars (0-3-2) have never really found their feet this season, while the Flash (2-2-1) have shown signs of turning the corner in recent weeks.
Back-to-back wins over Sky Blue FC and FC Kansas City mean the Flash are starting to hit the kind of form that most fans expected entering the year.
They had their missteps early, but behind Abby Wambach and Samantha Kerr, the Flash are the favorites to put Chicago away and keep raising their point total.
BOSTON BREAKERS vs. WASHINGTON SPIRIT (Saturday, 7 pm)
It doesn’t get much closer than the matchups these teams have had. This week marks their third meeting, with the previous two ending in 1-1 draws via a pair of stunning equalizers: a stoppage-time goal from Boston’s Sydney Leroux, and a laser-like strike from Washington’s Lori Lindsey.
Both are coming off disappointing results, as the Breakers (2-1-2) suffered their first loss with a 2-0 defeat at FCKC, while the Spirit (1-3-3) followed a breakout 4-2 win at Seattle by losing 2-0 at Portland. It will also be a matchup of two of the NWSL’s top goal-scorers, with Leroux and the Spirit’s Diana Matheson each on four goals.
The Breakers would seem to have the edge based on consistency and playing at home, but a third deadlock wouldn’t be at all shocking.
SEATTLE REIGN vs. PORTLAND THORNS (Saturday, 7 pm)
The two rivals from the Pacific Northwest couldn’t have looked any more different so far.
The Thorns (5-1-1) are tied for first, while the Reign (0-6-1) are in last, and those numbers alone tell you there isn’t much reason to analyze this match, save for saying these are three points Portland can’t afford to drop.
FC KANSAS CITY vs. SKY BLUE FC (Saturday, 7:35 pm)
And now for the big one, the battle of the four-letter acronyms jockeying for position atop the league table.
SBFC (5-1-1) shocked the league last week with a 1-0 win at Portland, moving into a tie for first and matching the Thorns on goals scored (11) and allowed (4).
FCKC (3-1-1) picked up a big win as well, handing Boston its first loss and shutout by a 2-0 margin to move into third. The club is six points off the lead but has two games in hand, and this week represents a chance to gain some major ground at home.
Both teams have tight defenses (allowing a combined total of seven goals in 12 matches) and proven goal-scorers, as FCKC is led by rookie Renae Cuellar (four goals) and Lauren Cheney (two), while SBFC will look to Sophie Schmidt (four), Taylor Lytle and Lisa De Vanna (two each).
Who are your picks? Can Sky Blue FC stay atop the standings? Do you believe the Reign have a prayer of upsetting the Thorns? Do you see the Spirit and Breakers avoiding another draw?
Share your thoughts below.