Jane G. Photography/Seattle Reign FC
By KAREEN DROT
Last week, the Houston Dash had a taste of victory in a come-from-behind win over Boston. But up next, the Dash will attempt to snap the two-game win streak of a strong Seattle Reign team that tops the league table.
It won’t be easy against a Seattle team that has grown leaps and bounds ahead of its former self – with the confidence on the pitch to show for it. As a unit, Seattle is dominating the league with five players contributing to six goals, so the Dash have their work cut out for them.
But Seattle could be inched out of the top spot by the Portland Thorns, who are currently trailing by two points and face an FC Kansas City team that has yet to find a win. The Thorns are off to a rocky start themselves though, considering they have played their last two matches coasting on the backs of two players – midfielder Allie Long and goalkeeper Nadine Angerer.
This week, Long and Angerer might struggle against an FC Kansas City side that is looking to redeem itself after a tough 3-1 loss to Washington.
Elsewhere, the National Women’s Soccer League schedule provides Chicago with a chance to move closer to the top as they welcome Washington while Boston closes out the weekend as they take on a struggling Sky Blue FC.
Here’s a closer look at this week’s NWSL matchups:
WASHINGTON SPIRIT at CHICAGO RED STARS (Saturday at 8:00 pm ET – watch live)
While the Spirit struggle to maintain consistency, the Red Stars will look to improve on their positive start to the season. For Chicago to earn a second consecutive win, they should press hard from the start in the Spirits’ defensive third.
Washington’s defense has struggled to deal with early pressure, resulting in turnovers and poor clearances so far this season. Look for Chicago to push forward with their best finishers, Adriana Leon, Lori Chalupny and Alyssa Mautz on the attack. Mautz scored in three out of four preseason matches while Leon is skilled at finding pockets outside the box. For Washington, they should start off by marking Chalupny, who is likely to get the offense rolling early in the first half.
Washington’s top scorer, Diana Matheson is dangerous with the ball at her feet but getting her possession might be difficult with such a formidable Chicago midfield.
FC KANSAS CITY at PORTLAND THORNS FC (Saturday at 10:00 pm ET – watch live)
Both squads have a similar problem this season – they have relied on a single scorer. For the Thorns that is Allie Long and for FCKC that is Amy Rodriguez. From the opening minutes, both of these playmakers should be marked, which leaves the playing field open for a new leader to emerge. FCKC has a stacked midfield but Lauren Holiday has to regain her leadership centrally and connect up top with Erika Tymrak and Merritt Mathias.
Saturday’s match leaves a lot to be expected of both clubs. Portland needs to improve their on-field communication and give Christine Sinclair a more prominent role up top. Once she falls into the midfield, she becomes invisible. If the Thorns use her as the target forward, they might produce an early lead but the challenge there would be to defeat Becky Sauerbrunn’s stronghold on the defense.
HOUSTON DASH at SEATTLE REIGN FC (Sunday at 7:00 pm ET – watch live)
Houston is still growing and trying to figure out what works best for them. Similarly, Seattle might not know what to expect from the Dash when they visit Memorial Stadium. But one thing is certain – Rafaelle Souza and Teresa Noyola are a strong combination that Seattle will try to contain.
Starting Noyola, voted NWSL Player of the Week, and Souza should keep Seattle busy in the midfield, giving Jordan Jackson room to move and test Hope Solo. Seattle strives to cover a lot of ground, which could make it difficult for Houston to work in tight spaces. Especially against Seattle’s defiant defense that has only conceded one goal off a penalty kick.
Houston still looks somewhat fragmented both up top and in the back, which may provide Nahomi Kawasumi with an ideal playing ground to find space for Kim Little, Sydney Leroux or Jessica Fishlock to score. Fishlock and Keelin Winters are skilled at overturning possession in the midfield and sending the ball forward and the Dash would do well to contain them.
SKY BLUE FC at BOSTON BREAKERS (Sunday at 7:00 pm ET – watch live)
Sky Blue FC might sit two spots above Boston but they are more alike than the points reflect. Both teams dominate possession in the first half but somewhere in the closing half they lose direction and give up control of the game.
Where Sky Blue FC is strong, Boston is weak. The SBFC defense has improved with the return of Christie Rampone, but Boston’s defense remains shaky. This weakness could be Sky Blue’s opportunity to jump ahead in the table. If Sky Blue puts their best foot forward with Kelley O’Hara on the wing rushing down the flank to link up with Sophie Schmidt or Katy Freels, then they might produce an early lead and three potential road points.
But, having O’Hara moving too far forward might expose space for Heather O’Reilly to bypass the SBFC midfield down the flank to connect with Lianne Sanderson in the box.
For Boston and Sky Blue, it should be a tight match of two sides trying to break out of an early rut.
What do you think of this weekend’s NWSL slate? Which matchup are you looking forward to the most? Will Seattle stay on top? Can FC Kansas City regain their 2013 form?
Share your thoughts below.