Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Week 19

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Backline Soccer Recap:

Quick Fire Week 19 Game Previews:

We are winding down in the 2017 NWSL season but the race for the playoffs is heating up. Let’s take a look at what the matches on deck have for us this weekend. 

Game 1: Portland Thorns vs. Washington Spirit

Portland Thorns record: 11-5-4
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 37

Washington Spirit record: 4-12-4
Position: 10th
Total Points: 16

Portland at home and Portland on a hot streak should make this a fairly easy match if the streak continues. Tobin Heath has also been added to the active roster but is not expected to play this weekend. The main focus for Portland this weekend will be to continue to add elements to their attack and keep the pressure moving forward. 

What can we say about Washington at this point? With more potential injuries to Estelle Johnson and Franny Ordega in the midweek game, the Spirit are hurting for healthy players. It is unknown if Steph Labbé will be available this weekend which I believe is another story in and of itself. Overall with the Spirit officially eliminated from the playoffs, this week, they just need to focus on keeping themselves in the game. I expect to see some sparks from their attack with Cheyna Williams leading the charge. But one of the biggest weaknesses is their defense, and if Johnson is unavailable to play, the already weak backline potentially without Labbé in-goal will have a heck of a time containing Portland at full strength. 

Game 2: Orlando Pride vs. Boston Breakers

Orlando Pride record: 9-6-5
Position: 4th
Total Points: 32

Boston Breakers record: 3-10-7
Position: 9th
Total Points: 16

The Pride did not play their prettiest soccer last week against FCKC but pulled out the last-minute win. This week they are looking to secure another three points against the Breakers as they push for their playoff spot. The team is playing like the roster on paper was expected to play for the majority of the season. This week they logically should not have a whole lot of trouble with Boston but if we have learned one thing from this season, it is that any team can win or any given day. Their last match against Boston was also not their best so they will need to focus on getting service through to their attack and shoring up the back-end in the defense. If Alex Morgan and Marta can link up early in this match it will be very hard for the Breakers to stop them both. The defense has also looked a lot better and more compact throughout August so they should make sure to keep that progress, and not let poor turnovers cost them points. 

Boston should have Rose Lavelle back this week and she may get some minutes. Since they are out of playoff contention, they do not have much more to lose, so playing spoiler will most likely be their game for the rest of the season. The Breakers have the ability to get behind but they are missing the creativity to close their games, something Lavelle was doing for them at the beginning of the season. This week, their biggest focus will be finding a way to shut down the Morgan/Marta duo and finding a way behind the newly compacted backline of Orlando. 

Game 3: FC Kansas City vs. Sky Blue FC

FC Kansas City record: 6-9-5
Position: 7th
Total Points: 23

Sky Blue FC record: 9-9-2
Position: 5th
Total Points: 29

FCKC’s winning streak came to an end last week but they still have the ability to keep the ship upright and continue their winning ways. They held Orlando most of the match and let a silly foul at the end cost them at least a point. This week they will need to work on keeping someone on Sam Kerr throughout the match. That task will most likely come down to either Becky Sauerbunn or Becca Moros. FCKC very much has the ability to win this match if they can get a goal or two early and then hold down the back-end of the game from there. 

Sky Blue is still in the hunt for a playoff spot on the back of the magical Sam Kerr. I say it every week but really, I think their season would be much different without her. They do not seem to have an identity outside of “Sam Kerr,” which I think will need to be solved, especially if they make the playoffs. She scored the game-winning goal last week but was otherwise quiet. This week expect to see a bit more from her, knowing what is on the line. Sky Blue will have their work cut out for them with FCKC’s attack of Sydney Leroux and Shea Groom. Sky Blue’s defense is already shaky so if FCKC can get in behind and put the pressure on, Sky Blue will have their work cut out for them.

Game 4: Chicago Red Stars vs. North Carolina Courage

Chicago Red Stars record: 9-6-5
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 32

North Carolina Courage record: 14-5-0
Position: 1st
Total Points: 42

Chicago has some work to do to maintain their playoff spot in the last few weeks of the season. They pulled out the win last week but it was not pretty. The once strongest defense in the league is having a lot of trouble sustaining that title and keeping opposing players out of their final third. The Red Stars need to see more from Sofia Huerta in these last few weeks as she has seemingly not been as active on the field as she was with Christen Press for the majority of the season. Christen Press did her thing in the waning minutes to give Chicago the win last week but I would like to see more from her throughout this match against a strong Courage side. Chicago is going to need everything she has got to pull out the win here. Alyssa Naeher is another one to watch for in this match as she still seems to be struggling with the strain suffered at the Tournament of Nations, which has slowed down her game a bit.

The Courage have been pretty much dominating the entire season. They still are fighting for first place but are in the playoffs. With short rest, I think they key here will be who starts the match for them, knowing they still have an extra game to make up against the Dash and are in the playoffs. The Courage bench is quite deep so almost any formation they field will give Chicago good opposition. The Courage attack has not produced that many goals this season but that does not seem to matter much considering their positioning on the table. The focus this week will really just to pad the first place run more. Chicago has more to lose, so the Courage should expect a fight. 

Game 5: Houston Dash vs. Seattle Reign

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

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

The Dash have not had much time to practice or get together as a team this week due to Hurricane Harvey so this match will be tough for them mentally and physically. At the beginning of the week, I picked Houston to pull out the win here against a bit of a declining Seattle side but with limited team practice and the loss of two big players in trades–Lydia Williams and Morgan Brian–I think this game is a bit harder to predict. Additionally, the Dash have added Kristie Mewis. I also do not think Carli Lloyd will be available to play either. All of this adds up to a very tough match up for the Dash. This week they really need to focus on finding their form in the attack; perhaps Mewis will be able to help in that department. But their main focus should be their backline. They needed defensive depth and recently added Meghan Cox, who may see some minutes. They have struggled to hold off high pressure from attacking teams and if they are not finding the goals, their backline has to salvage something. 

Seattle gained a world-class goal keeper in Lydia Williams this week so it will be interesting to see what comes of this. Will she stay? Is she a part of another trade?   Hayley Kopmeyer has had issues this season in her first full starting season out from under Hope Solo, but I do not think they are worth losing her starting spot. I would still not be surprised to see Lydia Williams get some minutes. The biggest thing Seattle needs to work on starting this week is their defense. The defense has struggled to hold off most of the teams in this league and without Megan Rapinoe adding goals at the other end, the defense has been under more pressure to do their job and keep the opposing team at bay. I expect to see some shift in Seattle this week as they fight for a playoff spot. 

The Scouting Report:

We took a hiatus from TSR this week but not to fret, we will be back next week, Monday at 8pm EST, with our recap from the weekend’s NWSL action.

Image courtesy of Kelley Piper