Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Week 18

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Backline Soccer Recap:

Quick Fire Week 16 Game Previews:

The playoff picture is getting tighter and tighter but as evidenced by last weeks results, anything can happen! Let’s dive in to this weekend’s games. 

Game 1: FC Kansas City vs. Orlando Pride

FC Kansas City record: 6-8-5
Position: 7th
Total Points: 23

Orlando Pride record: 8-6-5
Position: 4th
Total Points: 29

A month ago this match would not have had many implications but it has some pretty serious ones now. 

Let’s just imagine where FCKC would be with a healthy Amy Rodriguez and a few more games left the schedule….ok are we there? Now let us come back to the present. KC don’t have Rodriguez but they’re starting to put it together anything. If FCKC can continue their path, they will make it tough for Orlando. While we have seen some miscues from Becky Sauerbrunn this season, she is still their best option in the back to clean up a lot of mess. Sydney Leroux has seemed to hit herself a bit of a streak. Their focus this week will be to find a way to shut down the firing duo of Alex Morgan and Marta. Nicole Barnhart can expect to see a lot of work unless the FCKC defense can compact themselves a little better. 

Orlando is playing some of their best soccer in their short team history and that is a good thing. They are in the middle of the playoff hunt, and going strong. Their early season struggles with finishing made a bit of a reappearance in their match last week against the Breakers, and without Alex Morgan, the game would have been much different. But they do have Morgan and Orlando fans everywhere should be rejoicing. With her and Marta working well together, they’ll put some real pressure on KC. The defense will also need to hold strong against KC’s renewed attack. But this is Orlando’s game to lose. If Morgan and Marta can continue on the same path, they’ll be in good shape. 

Game 2: Seattle Reign vs. Portland Thorns

Seattle Reign record: 7-6-6
Position: 5th
Total Points: 27

Portland Thorns record: 10-5-4
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 34

The Reign will be out for revenge this week, against their old rivals. After blowing a 3-0 lead to Sky Blue, they really need to pick up all 3 points here. Their defense once again let them down and it will be put to the test again, with Portland coming to town. It will be a tough few weeks for the Reign without Megan Rapinoe, but they should be able to get through it if they can just figure out the defense issue.  

The Thorns have hit their stride, and have some good news on the horizon with Tobin Heath close to a return. But will she fit in right now? And should she? They may try to ease her in slowly, but we can save further speculation for when she’s actually back. For now, it’s about Seattle, where the Thorns will hope to capitalize on their defensive woes. Expect them to keep up constant pressure as they push the ball up and keep it on throughout the final third. The Thorns are still not playing at their fullest potential to me, especially some of their bigger players, but it goes to show how deep they are that even playing below their potential they’re still solidly in second place. 

Game 3: Washington Spirit vs. Chicago Red Stars

Washington Spirit record: 4-10-4
Position: 10th
Total Points: 16

Chicago Red Stars record: 8-6-5
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 29

The Spirit just traded away Kristie Mewis, but got a nice deal in return. A top pick next year will help set them up, and they also picked up Morgan Proffitt who might be able to contribute now, maybe shoring up a defense suffering from some injuries.  The Spirit backline has been their best hope for salvaging some points this season, but it will depend on formation. Last weeks lineup was able to hold the Courage pretty tough for a while before the breakaway and an own goal. But there is just not much happening with the Spirit attack. And while we all praise a good defense, you still need to score goals to win. Look for the Spirit to try to hold their own against Chicago, who is also having its struggles. If we see a similar defensive lineup this week, they may just be able to hold Chicago. 

Chicago, what can we say? After a very successful run through the middle of the season, the Red Stars are sputtering. The biggest issues seem to stem from personnel choices, which have been compounded by some nagging injuries to star players. Christen Press, after admitting to having ankle issues since the early season match against Portland, has not been herself for a few games. Alyssa Naeher is also dealing with a groin strain from the Tournament of Nations and has had her struggles in goal.We have seen a drop off from the otherwise stalwart defense and Casey Short can only take on so much herself without someone else stepping up to help. Overall, Chicago needs to keep stringing their passes together and find their attack again. Look for them to try to right the ship this week and get back to their winning ways. 

Game 4: Sky Blue FC vs. Boston Breakers 

Sky Blue FC record: 8-9-2
Position: 6th
Total Points: 26

Boston Breakers  record: 3-9-7
Position: 9th
Total Points: 16

Seriously, where would Sky Blue be without Sam Kerr? Nowhere close to contention, certainly. It showed in the pure dominant performance she put in last week to bring Sky Blue out of a hole to win. But she will not always be able to score three or four goals every single game to dig her team out. No player can produce at that level every game. So we will see which Kerr comes out this week. And even with Kerr, Sky Blue can’t survive if they keep conceding four or five goals a game. They’ll have to do something about their defensive problems and the goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan’s struggles, too. But if they’re looking for a confidence boost, a struggling Boston side might be a good place to look.

After starting strong, Boston have drifted down the table over the season. Their biggest hope now is to just try to salvage a bit of this season and maybe play spoiler to a few playoff hopeful teams. Maybe they could have been more with Rose Lavelle all season.  She’s finally ready to return, but they will probably be careful with their young star as she eases her way back. This week, they need to capitalize on Sky Blue’s defense and figure out a way to shut down Sam Kerr. Orlando did a good job of it a few weeks ago, so the template is there. If they can follow it, Boston may be able to salvage some points in this match.

Game 5: Houston Dash vs. North Carolina

Houston Dash record: 7-10-2
Position: 8th
Total Points: 23

North Carolina record: 13-5-0
Position: 1st
Total Points: 39

This game has been postponed, due to Hurricane Harvey bearing down on the Texas coast.No official date has been set for the game to be played.

The Scouting Report:

We went live on Monday night with our weekly TSR. 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 episode, catch up here:

Image courtesy of Leanne Keator