By MIKE McCALL
With each team down to its final six or seven games, there’s really only one thing to watch as the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season winds down.
Sure, the races for the top spot in the standings or goal-scoring chart will carry some intrigue, but the real drama comes via the race for the four playoff spots.
The same four teams — Sky Blue FC, Portland Thorns, FC Kansas City and the Western New York Flash — have held those slots for weeks, but the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, and Seattle Reign have put themselves within striking distance, and this weekend brings a chance for all three to keep making up ground.
Here’s a closer look at the matchups for this weekend (all times local).
CHICAGO RED STARS vs. WASHINGTON SPIRIT (Saturday, 6 pm)
For Chicago (5-6-4), there’s really no option here. Five points out of the top four, the Red Stars have ground to make up, and they can’t afford to take fewer than three from the league’s worst team.
The Spirit (1-10-4) have gone from a draw-prone squad to one that seemingly can’t do anything but lose, and as the only team that’s realistically out of the postseason race, their motivation here has to be playing for pride and to spoil others’ hopes.
FC KANSAS CITY vs. SEATTLE REIGN (Saturday, 7:35 pm)
The most intriguing team in the playoff race, Seattle (4-9-3) takes its six-game unbeaten streak up against FCKC (7-4-5), which still has a shot at first place with a strong close to the season.
The Reign have been spectacular lately, and the fact that they’re still nine points behind the Flash for fourth place highlights how poorly they started the year. Still, Seattle is the league’s hottest team, and a win here would be far from surprising even given its seventh-place standing.
WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH vs. SKY BLUE FC (Sunday, 1:30 pm)
The three teams chasing playoff dreams will all be united in one rooting interest this weekend: Sky Blue FC. If the league leaders can knock off the Flash (6-4-6), it’ll be a major help for Boston, Chicago and Seattle.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. While Western New York has cooled a bit of late, the Flash still hold the league record for consecutive games without a loss. What’s more, they’ve had success against SBFC (9-3-4), taking their last two meetings by a combined score of 5-1.
This one will be the second NWSL game shown on national television, with Fox Soccer picking up a broadcast featuring four of the league’s top scorers: WNY’s Abby Wambach (10 goals) and SBFC’s Sophie Schmidt (six goals), Lisa De Vanna and Monica Ocampo (five each).
BOSTON BREAKERS vs. PORTLAND THORNS (Sunday, 4 pm)
These two have been on distinctly different paths recently. Boston (5-5-5) has rebounded from a losing skid to take eight points from its last four, while Portland (8-4-3) has just two points in that same span.
The Thorns got off to a strong enough start to the year that they can probably make the playoffs even by limping to the finish, but they won’t want to enter the postseason devoid of momentum.
For Boston, there’s still a four-point gap behind the Flash, and the Breakers will likely need more heroics from Sydney Leroux (10 goals) to extend their season.
Who are your picks? Will the Flash pull away? Can the next three make up ground? Are the Reign destined for a miraculous playoff run?
Share your thoughts below.