Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Week 10


Backline Soccer Recap:

Quick Fire Week 10 Game Previews:

We have arrived at Week Ten of the NWSL, not necessarily unscathed, but seeing plenty of parity between several teams in the league. Let’s dive into this week’s previews. 

Game 1: Orlando Pride vs. Houston Dash

Orlando Pride record: 3-3-3
Position: 6th
Total Points: 12

Houston Dash record: 2-7-0
Position: 10th
Total Points: 6

After last week’s dominant performance, (minus the last 10-15 minutes,) the Pride are coming into this week confident, really needing to start honing in and perfecting the little things. Big picture this week sees the Pride most likely coming away with the three points, if last week was any indication, but they will need to work hard on closing out games and remaining consistent. This week that will be their focus. They have seemed to have settled on a starting XI, at least until Alex Morgan is inserted back into the line-up in a few weeks. But their biggest enemy this week will be themselves. With Marta assisting in or scoring all four goals last week, the Pride will look to her for another solid performance. But they will also need to see others step up, especially defensively, to close-out the game. The last minute goals last week came at the cost of a goalkeeper and a defensive mistake. 

The Dash struggles continue and look to continue for the foreseeable future. I have mentioned this a few times in my previews, but even seeing the return of Carli Lloyd, who, while not scoring, had some strong moments in last week’s match, they just do not seem to have much idea of what to do, or what game plan they want to have at any given moment. This was apparent last week, especially as the players seem to fatigue well before the second half began. Their key, even if they do not win games, is to find consistency amongst each other this week. Their defensive game plan should be their first step. The team needs to find a way to get everyone working together, especially as the Pride have started to find their groove. They may have lucked out not having to face a combination of Marta and Alex Morgan quite yet.

Game 2: Boston Breakers vs. North Carolina Courage

Boston Breakers record: 2-5-2
Position: 9th
Total Points: 8

North Carolina Courage record: 7-3-0
Position: 10th
Total Points: 21

Boston has a lot to figure out this week but I do not know if we will see much more of an improvement against a Courage side that has been playing pretty consistently this season. The Breakers have also been plagued with injuries and it was just announced that starting goalkeeper Abby Smith is out this week. We will most likely see the first start for rookie and 2017 NWSL draftee, Sammy Jo Prudhomme. While she was a great goalkeeper in college, going up against an attack like the Courage’s, she will be tested early and often. Boston’s main focuses this week are to not give up the early goals and find a way to curb the Courage attack. The Breakers also re-signed Libby Stout during the week, a former GK who made 9 starts and 42 saves for the Breakers in 2016.

The Courage were without a few key players last week with Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald injured, but the team was still able to churn out a quality product. If both players return to the line-up this week, the Courage won’t need to make many adjustments in what they have been doing. Their key is to stay patient and shore up their defense because the Breakers’ attacking side only needs a little bit of space to make the Courage pay. Look for the hopeful return of the injured players to the line-up and the continued solid performance against a struggling Breakers side. 

Game 3: Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns

Washington Spirit record: 2-5-2
Position: 8th
Total Points: 8

Portland Thorns record: 4-2-3
Position: 4th
Total Points: 15

The Spirit are coming in this week with a new weapon in their arsenal. Estefania Banini, who was their leading goal-scorer last season, as returned to the Washington roster. There has been no word if she will be available for this match but the signing alone is good news for a team that’s been struggling. After holding the Red Stars to a draw last week, the Spirit will once again have their hands full against the Thorns. The Spirit are starting to put a few more pieces together but are still missing what Tori Huster brings and also may be potentially be without Mal Pugh again as she continues to recover from an injury suffered during the FIFA break. Washington will be looking for another consistent game from Steph Labbé, who has saved their butts on numerous occasions this season. But in order to get past the Thorns this weekend, the Spirit will need to keep the pressure and attack at a high level.

The Thorns are coming in this week after a loss to Sky Blue last week at home, a subpar performance that left them disappointed and maybe a little embarrassed. Look for them to want to bounce back very quickly this week. The Thorns are starting to show where the injuries are hurting them, mainly with a gaping hole left by Tobin Heath, who has experienced a setback with her back injury and looks to be even longer now. The weaknesses of Franch were exposed last week as well, so she will need to make sure her decision making is on this week as anything can happen against the Spirit. While also suffering more injuries than just Heath, if the Thorns can bounce back quickly this week, they should see a different result.

Game 4: Seattle Reign vs. FC Kansas City

Seattle Reign record: 3-2-4
Position: 5th
Total Points: 13

FC Kansas City record: 3-3-3
Position: 7th
Total Points: 12

The Reign have been quite the puzzling team this season. They started off the strong but have seemed to level out and been a bit inconsistent with their play. They really need work on closing out games and finding a bit more consistency defensively. While the backline is set and we have seen some great play from Haley Kopmeyer, it has been inconsistent. While FCKC won’t be a huge threat for them, with their inconsistencies, the attack from their post-season nemesis could cause some problems. Seattle needs to get back to their previous form and find a way to make their team gel better. If this means a shake-up in the line-up, then so be it. Granted, even though a few players such as Diana Matheson and Larissa Crummer, who they had planned on for the season, are still injured, they have several key pieces that coach Laura Harvey could move around. Jess Fishlock will need to become a little more dominant in the middle if Seattle is going to have a better chance at moving up the table.

FCKC has also been a bit puzzling this season. With Amy Rodriguez no longer a part of the picture, the FCKC attack has seemed to start to find the light of their rhythm. Sydney Leroux seems to be coming into her own a bit more, which is really the key for them, especially going up against the Reign, who have been a bit unpredictable. With FCKC fairly solid in the back with the Nicole Barnhart holding it down, if FCKC can spur their attack, they should see success this week.

Game 5: Chicago Red Stars vs. Sky Blue FC

Chicago Red Stars record: 5-2-2
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 17

Sky Blue FC record: 5-4-1
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 16

Chicago will have its hands full this week with Sky Blue. With a somewhat disappointing performance against the Spirit last week, there will be some things they look to improve on come Sunday. They’ve faced difficulties connecting their passes or in their ability to string them together, and the Red Stars will need to work on that against Sky Blue this week. The backline will also be fully tested with Sam Kerr, as most teams have been this season. She had herself a game last week against Portland, so Chicago will need to contain her throughout the game. If Chicago can connect more passes and be more consistent this week, this should be a great match-up to watch.

Sky Blue will want to continue their climb towards the top with another dominating performance this week. Look for them to rely again on Sam Kerr to spur the attack and get them on the board in Chicago. The biggest thing for Kerr, however, is consistency. She can have dominating games like she did last week and then be unable to buy herself a goal in the next. So working on her consistency, especially this week, will be key. Christie Pearce has also had to work all season with a young backline and, for the most part, they have been able to handle the tests of the NWSL play. But this week, with the Chicago attack led by Christen Press, Pearce and the rest of the backline will be tested frequently. Where Kelley O’Hara plays this week will be anyone’s guess, but if she causes as many fits on the field as she did last week, Chicago will have their hands full.

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