Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Week 12


Image Credits: Leanne Keator

Backline Soccer Recap:

Quick Fire Week 12 Game Previews:

Can anyone take the top spot from North Carolina? This week the Chicago Red Stars have a chance. With a win–and some help from the Seattle Reign–they could find themselves on top of the table for the first time this season. Let’s take a look at some keys for this weekend’s games. 

Game 1: Boston Breakers vs. Chicago Red Stars

Boston Breakers record: 3-6-3
Position: 9th
Total Points: 12

Chicago Red Stars record: 7-3-2
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 23

Boston is coming into this week off a much-needed morale-boosting win against the Spirit. But they will have a very tough task getting past a strong Chicago side. Rose Lavelle continues her time on the injured list, unfortunately, which will leave Boston without one of their more creative members. We’ve seen just how much she has done for Boston this year so far and it’s obvious that she is missed. But the Breakers have continued to fight. If they want to get a result here they’ll need to figure out a way to get past the strong Chicago defense, which should involve trying to find the open space in behind to challenge Alyssa Naeher. They need more production from their attacking line to accomplish this. In addition, Chicago has more attacking players than just Christen Press to carry the load and Boston should watch for pressure early.

On paper, this looks like a Chicago win, but as we’ve seen regularly in this league, no result is ever certain, and it’s anyone’s game from day-to-day. And Chicago does have weaknesses, for all that they’ve settled into a solid route. They’ve had problems creating and finishing good chances, and have also struggled to maintain enough possession to make anything happen. This week that will be their key to getting ahead of Boston: take advantage of possession and opportunities in front of goal. 

Game 2: Washington Spirit vs. Orlando Pride

Washington Spirit record: 3-6-2
Position: 10th
Total Points: 11

Orlando Pride record: 4-5-3
Position: 6th
Total Points: 15

The Spirit get the advantage of the home crowd this week, but the enthusiasm will most likely be shared between teams since this will be Ali Krieger’s first trip back to Washington in an Orlando uniform. The Spirit have started to slump into a rut that even Steph Labbé–who is having a great season–has had trouble managing.  It seems they have resigned to letting Labbé carry a heavy load as she faces a ton of shots every game. The key for them against an Orlando side that is finally finding some form is to hold some possession. They’ll be in trouble if Orlando can control the game and send waves of attacks toward the Spirit goal. 

The Pride will be coming in this week looking to pull out a big three points after a disappointing result last weekend, where they outplayed Chicago but came away with nothing. But that game was representative of their problems across the season. They tend to maintain fairly high possession percentages but have a hard time converting their chances into quality shots or goals. This is an area where the return of Alex Morgan could make a huge difference. She got a few minutes last weekend but should be ready to contribute fully here. And if Morgan and Marta start to connect and click on the field, the Spirit may be in trouble. Orlando also needs a lot more from players like Kristen Edmonds and Monica in the back and middle of the field or it may be time to try something new there. 

Game 3: Sky Blue FC vs. FC Kansas City

Sky Blue FC record: 6-6-1
Position: 4th
Total Points: 19

FC Kansas City record: 3-5-4
Position: 8th
Total Points: 13

Sky Blue FC is coming in from a whirlwind three-game week and ready to fight their way to the top. Sam Kerr has seemed to settle into a consistent routine lately, and if she continues that against FCKC, they will have a hard time stopping her. Sky Blue mixed up their defense last game, either because of players needing rest after the long week or a desire to see if something new could bring them more success in the back. And this will be an area of continued attention for the team, as the young backline has had some issues so far this year. It those recur, it could spell trouble against an FCKC attack that is just waiting to break free. 

FCKC just seem to be missing a bit of direction right now. Losing Amy Rodriguez after just one game really put a dent in their entire season and has forced players into roles that don’t really serve their skill sets, with Sydney Leroux being the most notable example. She doesn’t work well as a lone striker, but KC doesn’t really have any other options to lead the line. To stand a fighting change against Sky Blue this week, their attack will need to take advantage of the holes in the younger backline early and hope to put themselves up a goal or two before halftime. 

Game 4: North Carolina Courage vs. Seattle Reign

North Carolina Courage record: 8-4-0
Position: 1st
Total Points: 24

Seattle Reign record: 5-2-5
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 20

North Carolina is looking to stay atop of the standings this week but they may need to get past Seattle to manage it. And given Seattle’s current form, that may by tough. Still, for NC the gameplan is clear and it’s really just a question of whether they can execute. The return of Jess McDonald last week as a late substitute was a good sign; she looked primed and ready to score a few goals. Lynn Williams has not seen any minutes recently but be on the lookout for her status this weekend as well. And even without their twin towers, the depth of the NC attack has been impressive. The main issue for the team, then, is whether they can manage to stave off a very strong Reign attack and a very in-form Megan Rapinoe. No team has seemed to be able to stifle her yet this season. 

Seattle is coming in strong and will be looking to pick up more points on the back of Megan Rapinoe. However, at least for now, the status of Jess Fishlock is up in the air. We still don’t have word about the seriousness of her injury from last Saturday, and she is a crucial part of this team.  Seattle will have equal parts in trying to keep up their pressure and attack but also rely on their backline to hold off the wave of attack from the Courage side. If Fishlock can’t play, that could be a decisive factor. But with the quality backline and Megan Rapinoe, this should be an even and well-fought match. 

Game 5: Houston Dash vs. Portland Thorns

Houston Dash record: 4-7-1
Position: 7th
Total Points: 13

Portland Thorns record: 5-4-3
Position: 5th
Total Points: 18

The Dash have earned some crucial points in the last few games in the attempt to turn around their season. This week they will have their work cut out for them with a Portland team that will be hungry for a good result. The biggest issue for the Dash all season has been the lack of a consistent plan. But with the coaching change, it seems they are beginning to settle into a stable starting XI, with some small tweaks here and there. Carli Lloyd has seemed to be a positive factor as a morale and organization boost since her arrival. They will rely on her heavily this week against the Thorns. With Rachel Daly also settling back into her preferred role as a striker, the attack is beginning to look more solid. This week, though, they’ll need to focus on getting their backline to communicate more and try to contain the fluid and flexible Portland attack. 

The Thorns have had quite the topsy-turvy season this year, with injuries to some key players and puzzling results being mixed with some dominant performances.  But they are starting to find some success in their attack. Christine Sinclair is enormously important, of course, and she looks to be rounding into form; Portland should expect more out of her this week. The biggest question mark they’ve got is how to fill their Tobin Heath-sized-hole in the front line. They have a lot of depth and can handle missing players in most other roles, but without Heath, they’re really suffering for a lack of general creativity on the ball. But if the Thorns can get their attack moving and play through the midfield, they should find success against the Dash.

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