Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Week 15

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Backline Soccer Recap:

Quick Fire Week 15 Game Previews:

After an international break and the Tournament of Nations, the NWSL is back with five matches to kick start the later part of the season. Let’s dive into some thoughts on this weeks games. 

Game 1: Boston Breakers vs. FC Kansas City

Boston Breakers record: 3-7-5
Position: 8th
Total Points: 14

FC Kansas City record: 3-7-4
Position: 9th
Total Points: 13

The first game back after the international break may be without a few notable players.

For the Breakers, they will most likely be without starting goalkeeper, Abby Smith, and also Margaret Purce. Both players did not see minutes in the Tournament of Nations but with a game the night before across the country, the Breakers will probably not see them in action. This may be ok as Sammy Jo Prudhomme did a fine job filling in for Smith while she was injured. Boston will have some keys to look out for against FCKC but may have the advantage here as FCKC will also be without notable starters. The Breakers have some work to do for the rest of this season but there have been some positives the last few weeks. Hopefully, with Rose Lavelle most likely coming back, that will be the boost they need. 

FC Kansas City will most likely be missing two key components, Becky Sauerbrunn and Sydney Leroux. Both have seen minutes in the Tournament of Nations, with Sauerbrunn playing every minute. This could pose a big problem for an FCKC team that is already struggling to find itself and right the ship as the season progresses. Without these two, FCKC will have to find another person to pair with Shea Groom to create an attacking threat. While Sauerbrunn is not really replaceable, FCKC will have to find someone to pair with Yael Averbuch in the back to stop the Boston attack.

Game 2: Sky Blue FC vs. Washington Spirit

Sky Blue FC record: 7-7-2
Position: 5th
Total Points: 23

Washington Spirit record: 3-8-3
Position: 10th

Total Points: 12

After a crazy almost comeback win against the Reign last week, Sky Blue are hopeful for some more positive news this week. While they are playing the Spirit, who have problems of their own, Sky Blue will be without Sam Kerr and Kelley O’Hara, both key pieces for the team’s success this season. With their defense in a bit of a hard spot with the injury to Mandy Freeman, losing their biggest scoring asset for a game, no matter the opponent, is a problem. Add in Kelley O’Hara, who has played about everywhere but goalkeeper this season, and Sky Blue will need to put some quick pieces together. Sky Blue will be looking to overcome those obstacles and gain crucial points.

The Spirit have been hurting a bit as they sit in last place. Steph Labbé can only do so much with the team she has in front of her. This test against Sky Blue will probably be one of their biggest of the season. Up for grabs is a hopeful chance for the Spirit to get out of last place. They will have Mal Pugh back but on short rest. The Spirit are having issues closing out games. They seem to be struggling in more than just one key place, but mainly, they need to find a way to bolster their attack. Without Franny Ordega currently, and not as much production from Mal Pugh as they would probably like, the Spirit will be hard-pressed to get past a surging Sky Blue even without Kerr and O’Hara. But if they can find a way to exploit the backline of Sky Blue, they may give themselves a solid chance. 

Game 3: Portland Thorns vs. Houston Dash

Portland Thorns record: 7-4-4
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 25

Houston Dash record: 6-7-2
Position: 6th
Total Points: 20

Portland is still struggling a bit to click together as a team, but somehow are still sitting in third place in the standings. The status of Amandine Henry and Dagny Brynjarsdottir after their Euro’s ousting is not known for these games but they will be without Nadia Nadim. And while Lindsay Horan, Allie Long, and Hayley Raso will be back after the Tournament of Nations, it will be on short rest. The keys for the Thorns this week will be fixing some of their inconsistencies of chemistry together and trying to find a way past a surging Dash team. With players on short rest, they will be relying on their bench to help them through. 

The Dash have quite a few players that participated in the Tournament of Nations. While not all of them are playing, they will be on short rest as well. This includes both keepers, Jane Campbell and Lydia Williams, as well as Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Andressinha, and Bruna Benites. With the hard task of trying to get past Portland on their home turf, they Dash will need to see more activity from Rachel Daly up top as well as the expectation of their defense covering for both keepers on short rest. 

Game 4: North Carolina Courage vs. Seattle Reign

North Carolina Courage record: 9-5-0
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 27

Seattle Reign record: 6-3-6
Position: 4th
Total Points: 24

The Courage did not get to play their last game due to weather interruptions so the team has been out of game time for a bit longer than the Reign. This week, they will see short rest from Lynn Williams, Taylor Smith, Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, and Debinha. All but Williams have seen significant minutes in the Tournament of Nations. The Courage will look to get players like Ashley Hatch and Jess McDonald to bolster the attack. But the defense will be the biggest key against a strong Reign attack. 

The Reign will have Megan Rapinoe and Rumi Utsugi back but both will be on short rest. They will also be without Jess Fishlock again, though Larissa Crummer may finally get back in a game for the first time this season. Rapinoe is their biggest attacking asset and while she will most likely be playing, how much she physically can handle will be determined on game day. The Reign will look fot the attack to come from other players on top of Rapinoe to make sure they can get past the Courage. 

Game 5: Orlando Pride vs. Chicago Red Stars 

Orlando Pride record: 5-6-4
Position: 7th
Total Points: 19

Chicago Red Stars record: 8-3-4
Position: 1st
Total Points: 28

Coming back from short rest are Marta, Camila, Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger, Alanna Kennedy, and Steph Catley, all starters. All will most likely need to start on Saturday to have a shot to get past the surging Red Stars this week but this will be a game time decision. Orlando’s key this week and really what has been a big problem most of the season is consistency. They have the tools and the training to get past the Red Stars, but the little mistakes have cost them many games this season. The key will be to find a way behind Chicago’s backline, which boasts some of the best defenders in the league. Alex Morgan has only seen two 90′ games for the Pride this season, but with just a touch more from her, the gear should click to begin the surefire connection up top and produce some goals. Additionally, expect Marta to continue her season tear and produce a much-needed bolster in the attack. While needing to find a way to score, the Pride will also need to make sure they can contain Christen Press and prevent needless goals from happening. 

Chicago will also have some key players back from short rest; Alyssa Naeher, Christen Press, Julie Ertz, Casey Short, and Sofia Huerta (who could not play). Chicago has been on a tear and will look to continue their streak and hold onto the top spot. Chicago will work to contain Marta and Alex Morgan to stifle the biggest threats in the Pride attack. They will also need to get Christen Press involved as much as she can, finding pockets in behind the backline and getting on the board early. In their previous contest, Orlando left Chicago and particularly Press plenty of room to move and do what she does best, so if the same space is available again, expect Press to take full advantage. In their last matchup, Orlando was able to run most of their plays through the Chicago midfield as Ertz had not started the game. If she is unable to start against the Pride, they will need to make sure their midfield is up to the task to help out as needed.

The Scouting Report:

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In case you missed the two episodes, catch up here: