Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Thorns FC
By SARAH HALLETT
The stage has been set and the ninth week of the National Women’s Soccer League is ready for a high profile return and a top-of-the-table clash.
Alex Morgan, who hasn’t played competitively since November, is expected to finally return to the pitch – and not a moment too soon for a struggling Portland Thorns. The Thorns will welcome her back with open arms as they host the Western New York Flash and look to improve on their fifth-place standing.
The top-ranked Seattle Reign FC play host to one of the hottest clubs in the league in the Chicago Red Stars. Though the Red Stars are coming off a midweek loss, it is only their first since April 30. Third-place Chicago has won five games on the road this season and, in their first meeting of the season, Chicago may be one of the biggest challenges Seattle has had to face thus far.
Meanwhile, FC Kansas City could make a huge jump in the table if they can pull off a win against the Boston Breakers.
Here’s a closer look at this weekend’s NWSL fixtures:
CHICAGO RED STARS at SEATTLE REIGN FC (Saturday at 10pm ET – watch live)
The Red Stars should have forward Christen Press available fresh off her runner-up finish with Swedish club Tyreso FF in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Though nine players have contributed goals so far for the Red Stars this season, the addition of Press to the roster should elevate this offense even further.
However, scoring against the Seattle Reign FC will be no easy task. Only twice this season has Seattle surrendered more than one goal, thanks to a cohesive defense and the talents of Hope Solo. Coming off a 3-1 road win against Sky Blue FC last weekend, the Seattle Reign FC will return home looking for nothing less than another three points.
WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH at PORTLAND THORNS FC (Saturday at 10pm ET – watch live)
Alex Morgan is expected to make her season debut this Saturday night when the Thorns host the Flash. Morgan hasn’t seen the pitch since last fall due to a lengthy recovery from a stress fracture and her team couldn’t have asked for a better time for her return.
Portland is coming off two back-to-back losses including an embarrassing 4-1 loss to the lowly Boston Breakers. The Thorns will look to rebound against the Flash, who are desperate for a win of their own. The Flash have dropped points in four of their last five games and currently sit sixth in the standings.
Abby Wambach should return to action after missing Wednesday night’s game with a knee injury. Her absence left the Flash without a true striker in their lineup and if the Flash are going to win this game, they will need Wambach to produce up top.
BOSTON BREAKERS at FC KANSAS CITY (Saturday at 8pm ET – watch live)
FC Kansas City will take on the Boston Breakers this Saturday night, the second meeting this season for the two teams. Boston was shutout two weeks ago by Kansas City, but will be looking for a much different result this weekend. The Breakers are starting to find an offensive rhythm, producing six goals in the last two games.
The Breakers will have to find a way to contain striker Amy Rodriguez, who notched her ninth goal of the season on Wednesday night. Rodriguez is having a career year for Kansas City and the Boston defense will have their hands full against her this weekend.
FC Kansas City will also have a little motivation. A win combined with a loss by the Chicago Red Stars would push FC Kansas City into second place.
THE HOUSTON DASH at SKY BLUE FC (Sunday at 6pm ET – watch live)
The Houston Dash surprised just about everyone when they stole a win against the Flash last weekend. The Dash will now travel to New Jersey to take on Sky Blue FC as both teams search for consistency.
Defenders Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg spent the last week training with the Dash and should see minutes against Sky Blue FC. The two national team members are now full time with the Dash having finished their commitment to Swedish club Tyreso FF. They should add a huge boost to the back line for Houston and may help this team make a respectable run in the second half of the season.
Sky Blue FC, one of the best teams last year, has yet to find any consistency this season. An anemic offense is their biggest struggle and unless Sky Blue FC wants to remain near the bottom of the table, they need to start scoring goals.