Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Week 20


Backline Soccer Recap:

Quick Fire Week 20 Game Previews:

The playoff race could be decided this weekend as some big matches are taking place to decide the fate of some teams. Let’s take a look.

Game 1: Orlando Pride vs. Seattle Reign

Orlando Pride record: 10-6-6
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 36

Seattle Reign record: 8-7-7
Position: 5th
Total Points: 31

This game was moved to Thursday to better prepare for Hurricane Irma and get the players to safety before the storm was scheduled to hit Florida. It was a relatively back and forth game until literally the last seconds. Alex Morgan scored in stoppage time in what was sure to be their playoff winning berth. But Jess Fishlock said, not so fast, and scored just seconds later to close an exciting 1-1 draw. 

Game 2: FC Kansas City vs. Chicago Red Stars

FC Kansas City record: 7-9-5
Position: 7th
Total Points: 26

Chicago Red Stars record: 10-6-5
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 35

FCKC has hit on a nice hot streak save for the Orlando loss. They are really hitting their form this late in the season and could spell spoiler to a few potential playoff teams. Heck, they are technically still in contention as well. They have the potential to run away with this game at home if they can capitalize. This week they need to really center their game plan around Shea Groom, who has had a hand in quite a few different runs this season. The Chicago defense has had issues over the last several games so FCKC would do well to take advantage of those pockets of breakdown and capitalize. If FCKC can continue the path they took against Sky Blue last week they may see this one out. 

Chicago finally pulled out a win last week against the Courage in dramatic fashion but still have a bit to go in getting back to their full strength and form. Their defense has been shaky and looked out of sorts so that will be one thing they will need to shore up and lock in against an offensive FCKC. There were some bright spots starting with newcomer Yuki Nagasato last week she should be starting this weekend to give Chicago some good spots right out the gate. I would also like to see more involvement throughout the match from Christen Press as I know she has a lot more to contribute. Overall Chicago will have its work cut out against a surging FCKC and will need to be in top form to compete all 90 minutes. 

Game 3: North Carolina Courage vs. Houston Dash

North Carolina Courage record: 14-6-0
Position: 1st
Total Points: 42

Houston Dash record: 7-11-2
Position: 8th
Total Points: 23

The Courage will be disappointed with last week’s match against Chicago so they will be coming in this week looking to rebound and take all three points. They really should not have much trouble against the Dash. Their biggest problem last week was that they just could not finish their chances. With more hustle and work in the final third, North Carolina should be on the board early. 

Houston is looking to finish the season strong even if it is without some key players, namely Carli Lloyd. As it looks like she will continue to be out this weekend, the Dash will need to see great production from the returning Rachel Daly. The Dash have some great pieces but really need help on the defensive end and that will most likely show this weekend with the offensive firepower of the Courage. Overall, there is a lot of work to do as an organization for the Dash in the off-season but this week, they just need to stick to the basics and stay in the game. 

Game 4: Boston Breakers vs. Portland Thorns 

Boston Breakers record: 3-11-7
Position: 9th
Total Points: 16

Portland Thorns record: 12-5-4
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 40

Boston is officially eliminated from playoff contention but with just a few games left, they can still set some groundwork for next season. Rose Lavelle saw limited minutes last weekend which is a positive step for them and will most likely see some time this weekend as well. Boston has the pieces but just have not been able to string together enough. The biggest thing they can do this week against the Thorns is to capitalize on any potential mistakes they see. This would include defensive lapses or breakdowns, which is how they capitalized last week against Orlando. 

Portland sits just two points behind the Courage for first place and honestly, I am a bit surprised. I did not expect this to be their outcome this season considering how the season started and how out of sync they looked. The most surprising thing about this season I think, for me, is the drop off in the play of Allie Long, who quite frankly has been hard pressed to break back into the starting lineup as of late.  Portland has just been clicking together the last several games and is showing no signs of a slow down. This week though they have to be careful to not let up as the Breakers still have the fight in them to win some games. Hayley Raso will also be back after serving her yellow card accumulation suspension which will be another thorn in the Breakers side. 

Game 5: Sky Blue FC vs. Washington Spirit

Sky Blue FC record: 9-10-2
Position: 6th
Total Points: 29

Washington Spirit record: 4-13-4
Position: 10th
Total Points: 16

Sky Blue is still in playoff contention but needs some help from teams above them to make that happen. After last week’s loss to FCKC they will look to bounce back this week against the Spirit. It has been hard to really pinpoint the exact reason for the decline but to simplify it, the team just seems to be missing an identity outside of “Sam Kerr will score all of the goals and save us each week.” Last week she did not really look at the top of her game and I think in some ways she was playing a bit down to the opponent, which ultimately hurt them. But one of the bigger problems is the incredibly young backline and their inability to stop the attack of many bigger teams. The Spirit may not pose too big of a challenge this week but as with any game, anything can happen if you are not prepared. 

You have to feel for the Spirit players this season. A lot of core leadership was traded (or left) in the off-season and I am not sure anyone really stepped up to fill those voids, especially off of the field. Add on the many injuries they have accumulated and being eliminated from the playoffs, I am sure they just want to get to the end of the season and regroup. This week also brought the news that goalkeeper Steph Labbé would be sitting out the rest of the season for medical reasons. I wish her all of the best for whatever she is going through. Last game saw Estefania Banini looking to be dealing with a hamstring issue and also Mal Pugh limping a bit after a play. While there is no official word, the injury report this week will be the deciding factor. Ultimately, the Spirit are having trouble fielding players. This week, their biggest hope is to make sure they can stave off any further injuries and spur enough of an attack against Sky Blue and put some goals away.

The Scouting Report:

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Images courtesy of and Kelley Piper
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