By MIKE McCALL
For as spread out and clustered as the National Women’s Soccer League standings are, there’s still plenty on the line.
This weekend’s matches could bring a change atop the standings, a new addition to the front of the pack, and an answer to whether the league’s newest upstart has what it takes to make a late, longshot playoff push.
For a closer look, here are the matchups (all times local):
WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH vs. WASHINGTON SPIRIT (Tonight, 7:05 pm)
The Friday night kickoff pits the Flash (5-2-4) and their league-record eight-game unbeaten streak against a Spirit squad (1-6-3) that hasn’t earned a point in more than a month.
But WNY has drawn three of its last five, so this is a great opportunity to take the full three points from a struggling Washington Squad and keep pace with FC Kansas City in the battle for third place.
SEATTLE REIGN vs. CHICAGO RED STARS (Sunday, 8 pm)
In the not-so-distant-past, this would have been a “who cares?” matchup. Not anymore. The Red Stars (3-5-3) are still seven points out of a playoff spot, but coming in on a run of 3-1-1 in their last five, they are certainly a team to keep an eye on.
The Reign (1-9-2) are trying to pull off a similar resurrection after quadrupling their season point total in the last two games (one win, one draw). What’s more, the Seattle club has Megan Rapinoe on board, and with 15 shots in the past two games, she’s bound to put up an eye-catching game soon.
FC KANSAS CITY vs. PORTLAND THORNS (Sunday, 3:10 pm)
The marquee matchup of the weekend pits two high-powered attacks against each other, with four of the league’s top nine goal-scorers going head to head.
Led by Alex Morgan (five goals) and Christine Sinclair (four goals), Portland (8-2-2) will hope to take first place back after falling a point behind Sky Blue FC earlier this week — although the Thorns do have a game in hand.
On the other side, FC Kansas City (6-4-2) will rely on the scorching form of Lauren Cheney (seven goals) and Renae Cuellar (five goals). FCKC hasn’t quite been able to reach that top rung of the NWSL standings, but a win here puts them only three points behind Portland.
BOSTON BREAKERS vs. SKY BLUE FC (Sunday, 6:30 pm)
League-leading SBFC (8-2-3) can keep its spot atop the table by putting away the recently-disappointing Breakers (3-5-3), who have just one point from their last five matches.
Last time out, Boston handed Seattle its first win of the season, and the club is in danger of falling completely adrift of the fourth and final playoff spot.
With their next six games bringing two matches against SBFC, two against Portland, and one each against Seattle and FCKC, this could mark the beginning of the end if the Breakers aren’t careful.
Can Portland take first place back? Who wins the battle of the upstarts in Seattle? Can Boston reverse field?
Share your thoughts below.