Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Week 13


Backline Soccer Recap:

Quick Fire Week 13 Game Previews:

We have arrived at Week 13 of the NWSL. Parity is still a real thing as we continue to move through the season, but the gaps are widening. The Courage and the Red Stars are pulling away from the pack but the fight for the 4th spot is fierce; even the 3rd spot is potentially up for grabs as we progress through the season. Let’s take a look at some quick notes on this weekend’s games.

Game 1: Portland Thorns vs. North Carolina Courage

Portland Thorns record: 5-4-4
Position: 5th
Total Points: 19

North Carolina Courage record: 9-4-0
Position: 1st
Total Points: 27

Portland’s season has been a bit of a head scratcher and an argument between Allie Long and Meghan Klingenberg caught on camera at the end of last week’s match, it seems cohesion and team chemistry may actually be the bigger problem this year. They will also be without Nadia Nadim, Amandine Henry, and Dagny Brynjarsdóttir, who are off with their national teams to compete in the Euros. Playing at home this week should give them the energy and motivation they need to get back on track. Look for players like Christine Sinclair to feed off of that energy and hopefully get her season in a groove. Facing a strong wave of attack from the Courage, the Thorns will need to be careful of not being spread too far and allowing the attack to find pockets of space. Adrianna Franch has been having problems with her decision-making in big moments and will need to shore that up this week to have a fighting chance. Overall, if the Thorns can find their attack early, coupled with the Courage’s seeming struggles on the road, they may just pull one out at home. 

The Courage have spent all but about 12 hours of this season on top, but over the last several games, they have proven that they are beatable. They would certainly prefer to continue to reign at the top. With both Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald fully back from injury as well as an in-form Ashley Hatch, the Courage have plenty of attacking power to test the Thorns defense, which they will look to do this week. Playing on the road and especially in Portland, the Courage will want to get on the board early. 

Game 2: Sky Blue FC vs. Chicago Red Stars

Sky Blue FC record: 7-6-1
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 22

Chicago Red Stars record: 7-3-3
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 24

Sky Blue is looking for three big points at home this week. After a come-from-behind win thanks to the dominating play of Sam Kerr last week, I ask, where would they be without her? I think you would be hard-pressed to find a team that needs the likes of Sam Kerr more than Sky Blue as another attacking option just does not seem plausible without her. Sky Blue will be facing a tough Chicago attack with Christen Press leading the way and a stalwart midfield, led by Julie Ertz. While they have been in the habit of winning games late, they are going to want to wrap this one up early in order to stave off Chicago, who gets progressively better as the game goes on. The big focus for Sky Blue this week will be their defense. Mandy Freeman was injured last week, spraining her left ankle in the big win against FCKC, and will be out this week. Even with her healthy, the backline of Sky Blue has had struggles holding games together and will more likely have big problems against Chicago this weekend. 

Chicago would also like to move on from a disappointing draw last week with three big points this week. Their main focus this week will be to figure out how to contain Sam Kerr. If they can shut down Kerr, the Sky Blue attack will be mainly stifled. However, Chicago has had issues this season stringing passes together and maintaining meaningful possession. To accomplish pulling out a win and containing Kerr, they will need to rely more heavily on the team as a whole–not just Christen Press–to drive the attack. Press works better as the main striker and with her not playing last week there, their best asset was not being utilized properly. The Red Stars, though, continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the back. Expect Naeher and company to be tested frequently. 

Game 3: Orlando Pride vs. FC Kansas City

Orlando Pride record: 4-5-4
Position: 6th
Total Points: 16

FC Kansas City record: 3-6-4
Position: 8th
Total Points: 13

Orlando’s season has been one big roller coaster but if they want a chance at that fourth spot, they have got to get better at finishing their chances and stop giving away games with dreaded penalties. This week, with FCKC struggling in the attack, as long as the Pride can finish more of their chances, they should see positive results. The Pride seem to have a different struggle each week. For example, Orlando needs to find a better and more suitable defender than Kristen Edmonds as her play is becoming detrimental at times. This game should not prove defensively troublesome but if the Pride cannot convert their load of possession into the end result of goals, then the struggles will continue. Look for more cohesion from Alex Morgan and Marta this week, as they have another week of practice time under their belts. If Morgan can get her timing right this week, she may just be the extra push and clinical finisher they need up top with Marta.

FCKC just doesn’t have the answer for replacing Amy Rodriguez as a linking attacking player, which would free up players like Sydney Leroux and Shea Groom in the attack. Without Groom this week, due to a red card suspension, it will be mainly up to Leroux to hold down the attack and try to work in behind the Pride defensive line. If Leroux is able to find an opening and get on the board, FCKC may be able to start building the game from there. They will have their hands full, however, up front, staving off the attack Morgan, Marta, and Camila; the latter two players have been leading the way for most of the Pride season. 

Game 4: Houston Dash vs. Washington Spirit

Houston Dash record: 4-7-2
Position: 7th
Total Points: 14

Washington Spirit record: 3-6-3
Position: 10th
Total Points: 12

Houston is on the slow and steady upswing of their season, pulling out some crucial points. Without Carli Lloyd this week, due to red card suspension, we will see if her influence is just as palpable on the bench as on the field. The flair of the Spirit attack will test the Dash backline. While Lloyd has not yet supplied a good amount of goals, she has been crucial in developing play and linking passes to the goal-scorers, so they will need to make sure someone steps up in her absence. If Houston can get more production from Rachel Daly and similar production from Poliana–who should be starting–they may get positive results in the week without Lloyd. 

The Washington Spirit attacking duo of Estefania Banini and Mal Pugh will be key this week. Banini and Pugh showed off some early connections against the Pride last week, so with more time together, they should prove deadly for anyone facing them defensively. The Spirit have some dark horses in Meggie Doherty-Howard and Havana Solaun and if they can engage their talents more this week, they should see some good production. As always, the Spirit will look to rely on Tori Huster and Steph Labbé who have been huge and crucial for the success that Spirit have had this season. 

Game 5: Seattle Reign vs. Boston Breakers

Seattle Reign record: 5-3-5
Position: 4th
Total Points: 20

Boston Breakers record: 3-6-4
Position: 9th
Total Points: 13

Seattle will be without Jess Fishlock for a while, and once they looked out of sorts last week against the Courage without her. They will need to bounce back quickly to continue their quest for a playoff spot. Megan Rapinoe will need a much better game this week in order for the team to see success. If Rapinoe can connect and get back to the form she has had all season, the Reign should roll through this game. But if the Reign continue to have inconsistency issues, the Breakers could feasibly fight for the win. 

While Boston is sitting near the bottom of the table, they have begun to play a little better lately. The Breakers will sorely miss Allysha Chapman, out on yellow card accumulation. Boston will have to find an answer for Rapinoe this week, especially if she is back to her usual self. If they can contain her and put up a quality attacking presence, they just might be able to come out of Seattle with the win. 

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