Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Week 16

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Backline Soccer Recap:


Quick Fire Week 16 Game Previews:

As the NWSL season gets closer to the playoffs, we are seeing some distance between the top 3 and bottom 3, but movement in the middle. Let’s take a look at the upcoming games for the weekend. 

Game 1: Washington Spirit vs. Boston Breakers 

Washington Spirit record: 4-9-3
Position: 9th
Total Points: 15

Boston Breakers record: 3-7-6
Position: 8th
Total Points: 15

The Spirit are finally back at home after playing two games on the road and are looking to salvage the rest of their season. After a tough offseason, this is about where they were expected to end up, but they certainly won’t be satisfied and will want to tighten things up to close out the year. Their defense was in shambles against Orlando earlier this week so that will be the biggest thing to figure out with this quick turnaround. I don’t see a reason why their captain, Shelina Zadorsky, has been stuck on the bench. If she really has been worse in training than Kallman and Church, then the Spirit have bigger problems than we even knew.

Boston will be looking to pull out a win on the road and start another uptick in their season. They showed some good signs last week with a draw against FCKC but will need to get production from a broader range of players–last week it was pretty much Rosie White or bust–if they want to get more out of this match. If they can improve the attack, they should be able to get behind the Spirit backline, and hopefully, find some chances to finish. 

Game 2: Orlando Pride vs. Sky Blue FC

Orlando Pride record: 6-6-5
Position: 5th
Total Points: 23

Sky Blue FC record: 7-8-2
Position: 6th
Total Points: 23

The Pride are in must-win mode as they try to recover from a slow start and grab that fourth spot in the playoffs. They are coming off a dominating win against the Spirit and need to carry that momentum into this game. There weren’t major defensive problems against the Spirit midweek, but the floating right back position has caused distress, and with Sam Kerr back, they’ll need to get everything they’ve got to shut her down. Kristen Edmonds has been a liability for the Pride most of the season and if she can’t get her turnover ratio under control, Sky Blue will exploit it. The Pride attack, however, has seemed to find their groove, with Alex Morgan coming back into form and Marta staying on the top of her game. They’ll be facing a defense that has conceded the most goals in the league, and with their attack options ready, they should find the back of the net. 

Last week, Sky Blue was missing Sam Kerr (and Kelley O’Hara) and we saw a lot of cracks in their game. They’ve rescued plenty of results this year, thanks to some late match magic from Sam Kerr, but what is there to this team if she’s not around? She will be back this time, but they need to figure out the rest of the team and how they play because depending on Kerr can only get you so far. The defense is in trouble, and I’d like to see some changes. They’ve got injury problems, but what they’re doing now isn’t working and needs some tweaks. The big question marks this week will be the injury statuses of Kailen Sheridan, who was clearly in pain toward the end of the last game, and Kelley O’Hara, whose status has not been updated since the Tournament of Nations. If Kerr can get loose against the Pride and the defense can hold the strong Pride attack, we should be in for one exciting game. 

Game 3: Chicago Red Stars vs. Portland Thorns

Chicago Red Stars record: 8-3-5
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 29

Portland Thorns record: 8-4-4
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 28

The top three are quite compacted right now and so this is a must-win game for Chicago to hold on to that 2nd place spot. They should have all of their usual starters back after resting some of them last week against Orlando. With Sofia Huerta reminding people that she can score goals, expect to see even more link up between her and Christen Press this week against Portland. Chicago has a lot of luck at home and with probably the strongest defense in the league, they’ll like their chances of shutting Portland down. As long as Press or Huerta can get in behind, they should see success.

Portland is starting to come into their game, after quite a few struggles over the season. For a while, it seemed like they were just waiting for Tobin Heath to return. But as that looks increasingly less likely, they’ve finally started to make adjustments and pulled themselves back up toward relative playoff safety. Christine Sinclair has come into herself a bit more in the last few games, and that will need to continue if Portland wants to keep this run going. Nadia Nadim should also be back from the Euros, which will give the attack an extra boost. Overall, it will be hard to beat Chicago at home, but if they can shut down Press or Huerta, they may have a fighting chance. 

Game 4: Houston Dash vs. FC Kansas City

Houston Dash record: 6-8-2
Position: 7th
Total Points: 20

FC Kansas City record: 3-8-5
Position: 10th
Total Points: 14

The Dash are back at home and ready to face FCKC after a disappointing result against Portland. The Dash struggled with their formation and had trouble making anything of the few chances they did create. Their sub choices also left a bit to be desired. FCKC is struggling, so this is a prime opportunity for the Dash. But in this league, anything can happen on a given week. Sometimes the Dash are their own biggest enemies, so if they can put some shots on frame, they will give themselves a good chance to pick up some points. 

I feel at this point I am spinning a broken record with FCKC but they just do not seem to be able to figure it out. Sydney Leroux is not the pure scorer/striker they need, and they don’t seem to have any other solutions available.  My colleague Jacob Cristobal has a piece on the coaching situation this week. It’s been a tough year, but KC just need to try to finish out the season on a positive note. Despite their struggles, they do have most of the pieces. If they can just figure out how to fill some of the void of Amy Rodriguez, there’s room to build. 

Game 5: Seattle Reign vs. NC Courage

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

NC Courage record: 11-5-0
Position: 1st
Total Points: 33

This is a back-to-back matchup. Last time, the Reign fell 1-0 away. This time, they’ll like their chances better–at home and with both Megan Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock (seriously, can I get her healing regimen? Because my goodness …) for the first time in a couple months. Their difficulties on the road may well cost them a playoff spot, so they’ll need to be even better than usual at home to compensate. This week, with Rapinoe working back into the fold, they will need to find a way to get past the Courage defense. If Rapinoe is shut down, they will need to find another option to get into the attack. Seattle are pushing for that playoff spot but will need consistency across the weeks to make that happen. 

The Courage will be looking to continue their reign at the top of the table. That may be tough since they’ll be coming off of short rest after the makeup game Thursday night, but if any team has the fitness to handle that run, it’s NC. Plus, unlike last weekend, this time they’ll have an in-form Rapinoe to deal with. The Courage attack has gotten the job done this year but needs a bit of a kickstart. Lynn Williams has been relatively quiet this season (at least compared to her performance in 2016) but was the difference maker last match. If they can ramp their attack and keep Rapinoe at bay, we should see another hard-fought game.


The Scouting Report:

We went live on Monday night with our weekly TSR and Sunday night with our USA vs. Japan recap. A reminder that you can catch TSR live every Monday night at 8pm EST on our YouTube channel. Make sure to follow the podcast on Twitter @ScoutingPodcast.

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

Image courtesy of Leanne Keator