By MIKE McCALL
Well, it had to end sometime.
After a 1-0 loss to Chicago on Thursday, the Western New York Flash’s league-record nine-game unbeaten streak is over, with the club suffering its first defeat since April and squandering a chance to move within one game of first place.
But there’s no time to dwell on the lost opportunity. The four teams chasing the Flash for the final playoff spot all gained a point on them this week, and Sunday will bring a crucial matchup against third-place Kansas City.
A loss there could cede a lot of the ground gained by the Flash during their unbeaten streak, as league-leaders Sky Blue FC and the Portland Thorns both face winnable home games.
Here’s a closer look at the matchups (all times local).
SKY BLUE FC vs. WASHINGTON SPIRIT (Saturday, 7 pm)
In hopes of turning their floundering season around, the Spirit announced Monday that they had fired coach Mike Jorden, and the switch to former assistant Mark Parsons paid off in his first game at the helm, a 1-1 draw against the Breakers that snapped a 543-minute scoreless streak and five-game losing streak.
However, that goal was on a penalty — as most of top scorer Diana Matheson’s goals have been — and the Spirit are still a struggling squad. That’s just what SBFC needs right now, because the rest of the top four teams are creeping up on them in the standings.
PORTLAND THORNS vs. BOSTON BREAKERS (Saturday, 7:30 pm)
The Breakers are just tough to predict, but a recent victory over SBFC and draw with resurgent Seattle bodes well for their chances of a comeback playoff run.
They won’t make it easy for the Portland Thorns, who could really use a win after being shut out in two straight games. With the next-to-worst defense in the NWSL in terms of goals allowed, Boston might be just what Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair and the rest of the Thorns need right now.
FC KANSAS CITY vs. WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH (Sunday, 3:10 pm)
These two have been jockeying for position in third and fourth, and Sunday could finally provide some separation if the home side is able to pull out a win.
The Flash certainly won’t make that easy. Thursday’s loss aside, they’ve been on a roll, and this game provides an opportunity to snatch third place.
FCKC will be interesting to watch moving forward for more reasons than the playoff race. Trading talented forward Renae Cuellar (five goals) to Seattle was a big vote of confidence in league co-leader Lauren Cheney (eight goals), and Cheney will have a big chance to shine going head to head with Abby Wambach’s side.
Who are your picks? Do the top two stay out in front? Will Portland find a goal? Who takes the battle for third place?
Share your thoughts below.