Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Week 22


Backline Soccer Recap:

Quick Fire Week 22 Game Previews:

We have arrived in the final week of the 2017 NWSL season before the playoffs arrive and what a season it has been! The four playoff teams are set: North Carolina, Portland, Chicago, and Orlando have all secured their spot. Let’s take a look at how the final regular season weekend matches up. 

Game 1: Portland Thorns vs. Chicago Red Stars

Portland Thorns record: 13-5-5
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 44

Chicago Red Stars record: 11-6-6
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 39

With second place securely locked up in the playoffs, I assume that Head Coach Mark Parsons will be looking at resting some starters to prepare for the home semi-final match the next weekend. Then again, this may be their semi-final matchup so they may want to test some things before that. With one of the best defenses in the league, they will look to contain the Red Stars attacking push. But the struggle they had last week against Orlando was spending so much time defending they were unable to get much going on the offensive end. This worked against Orlando but may not work against Chicago who will exploit the width that Orlando didn’t. So their task this week, if they want to win, will be to spur their offensive attack a lot more than they have been. 

Chicago will need a draw or win to secure the third place spot in the playoffs or for Orlando to draw or lose. This week will be interesting if they decide to go the resting route to prepare for the semi-finals or go all out as this environment and team may be who their semi-final opponent is. By the end of last weeks match the Red Stars looked exhausted as their starters have been put through the ringer this season. If we assume no one rests this should be quite the matchup. While Chicago’s defense has suffered a bit over the last several games, Vanessa DiBernardo coming back to the field will help settle everyone around her and get Chicago clicking better. Chicago will also be without Yuki Nagasato this week due to red-card suspension. Chicago will need the offensive prowess of Christen Press and Sofia Huerta to make something happen for them up top. And the defense will need to make sure to not let Portland get any pockets of space to allow the likes of Hayley Raso to speed past them.

Game 2: Washington Spirit vs. Seattle Reign

Washington Spirit record: 5-15-4
Position: 10th
Total Points: 19

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

Washington was only able to put two field substitutes on the field last week due to injury and by the end, the team just looked exhausted. I expect this week to see them put up a good fight in their last home match but that will entirely depend on what Seattle team shows up to play. Washington has some great pieces, save for the offside calls, Mal Pugh netted two goals last game for the Spirit. I expect her to be just as involved this week in sparking the offense. It will be up to the defense, which has struggled especially since Estelle Johnson went out, to stave off the Seattle attack.

Megan Rapinoe is out for the final match of the Reign 2017 season due to yellow card accumulation. With nothing left to play for but pride, I expect Seattle to come out blazing and playing a lot more free. This will also be the final match of her career for Elli Reed, who is retiring. Combine those two and I expect Seattle to not have too many issues this week with a depleted Spirit side. 

Game 3: Boston Breakers vs. Sky Blue FC

Boston Breakers record: 4-12-7
Position: 9th
Total Points: 19

Sky Blue FC record: 9-11-3
Position: 6th
Total Points: 30

Boston has had pockets of good throughout the season but find themselves in a very similar predicament to last year. Progress has been made but they still are not winning very much. With their big road win last week against the Spirit, they carry that momentum into their final match of the season to their house. This week Boston’s biggest task will be shutting down Sam Kerr and letting her capitalize on any opportunities because if they’re there, she’s taking them. Sky Blue’s defensive struggles have been apparent this season and Boston is starting to see a bit of a spark in their offensive. If they can take advantage of that weakness and the opportunities it will inevitably produce, we could see this game go either way.

Sky Blue will be looking to end their season on a high note after fighting to a good draw with the first-place Courage last weekend. Sky Blue saw a lot of opportunities last week against a tough team but could not finish their chances. But this week, with Boston on the struggling end of things as well, if they can capitalize on mistakes and opportunities from the Boston defense, Sam Kerr just might get that goal record this weekend. 

Game 4: North Carolina Courage vs. Orlando Pride 

North Carolina Courage record: 15-6-1
Position: 1st
Total Points: 49

Orlando Pride record: 10-6-7
Position: 4th
Total Points: 37

The Courage are coming into this game on short rest and with the shield locked up, I would not be surprised to see some starters resting. Both Jaelene Hinkle and Katelyn Rowland were completely rested and Taylor Smith saw limited minutes. This may have been in part to save players for this weekend’s match as it is also a potential match we will see in the semi-finals if current standings hold. This will be a deciding factor I think it what we may see in the outcome of the weekend. Overall, the Courage have not scored the most goals this season but enough to firmly cement their place at the top. Sam Mewis has been stellar and will be a threat both offensively and defensively this weekend. The Courage will be tasked with making sure that Marta and Alex Morgan are not given many chances to connect as the Pride engine relies on that a lot. 

The Pride are coming in this weekend with a lot less pressure as they were able to clinch the final playoff spot thanks to the result of the FCKC and Seattle game last weekend. The Pride would be pressed to treat this match like a playoff as this could very well be who they are facing in the semi-final but I can also see Head Coach Tom Sermanni giving some players a rest who may be dealing with slight injuries or fatigue. If I was a betting woman, I do not think we will see Steph Catley this weekend due to the small knock she took last week against Portland. The Pride need to make sure they are exploiting the wide areas against the Courage this week as Portland was able to shut down their entire offensive game last week by making them play too tight. While the Pride defense has gotten a lot better in the last several games, the Courage attack can give them fits if they do not keep their line tight and organized. 

Game 5: FC Kansas City vs. Houston Dash

FC Kansas City record: 8-9-6
Position: 7th
Total Points: 30

Houston Dash record: 7-14-2
Position: 8th
Total Points: 23

FCKC put a dagger in the playoff hopes of the Seattle Reign last week and have been on a successful run for their last several games. With the Dash clearly struggling on and off the field, I expect to see FCKC finish their season on a positive note. Look this week for them to exploit the defensive scramble that the Courage were able to mid-week. And if Becky Sauerbrunn plays like she did against Seattle, Houston will have a very hard time getting anything through the defensive line. 

Houston is coming into this game after a 4-0 loss and short rest. We saw a few players rest on Wednesday but I do not expect much of that today, seeing as it is the final game of their season. On Wednesday, their defensive struggled mightily against everything the Courage were throwing at them. This match they will face similar with Shea Groom and Sydney Leroux both springing the offensive attack. Amber Brooks has been a stalwart in defense but she is only one person and if Houston hops to make it out of this match unscathed, she and Jane Campbell will need a lot more help.

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Image courtesy of Kelley Piper
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