Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Week 8


Image Credits to Leanne Keator. 

Welcome to Week 8 of Off the Bench!

Backline Soccer Recap:

Quick Fire Week 8 Game Previews:

We have arrived at Week 8 of the NWSL season. North Carolina is still holding on to the top of the league, but Chicago has a hit their stride and is creeping up very quickly. This week’s games will be the final matches until June 17th as the USWNT will travel during the FIFA break for two friendlies against Sweden and Norway. 

Game 1: North Carolina Courage  vs. FC Kansas City 

North Carolina Courage record: 5-3-0
Position: 1st
Total Points: 15

FC Kansas City record: 3-2-2
Position: 6th
Total Points: 11

This week the Courage are looking to bounce back from losing two of their last three games. The early signs of the season saw them sitting pretty healthy on top of the standings but that has changed quite a bit in the last 2-3 weeks. North Carolina’s attack continues to be strong but they are having trouble getting past certain defenses they should be getting through. This week, that will be their biggest challenge. The FCKC defense has held their team together, so the Courage will have to continually attack. Lynn Williams works better with a partner up top, so expect the Courage to have that for her this week.

FCKC is coming off a hot game from Player of the Week, Sydney Leroux. She scored twice last week to lead them to victory. I have been talking throughout my Off the Bench pieces of Leroux either needing to find her next level or get some help up top. She was finally able to find her groove last week. FCKC will depend on her a lot this week to continue to find the chances and put the ball in the net. FCKC will also need their defense to stay in-form as they look to stave off the Courage attack.

Game 2: Washington Spirit vs. Houston Dash

Washington Spirit record: 1-5-1
Position: 10th
Total Points: 4

Houston Dash record: 2-5-0
Position: 9th
Total Points: 6

The Spirit are looking for their second win of the season this week and may just get it with the Dash in a bit of limbo. Washington has to find a way to get their complete package to show on the field. Their defense continues to have some problems leaving Steph Labbé out to dry but this may not get highlighted as much this weekend if the Dash continue to play poorly. The Spirit will need to see more production from their attack in counters and capitalize on their chances if they hope to take the three points.

The Dash will be with a new (interim) head coach this week, as previous Head Coach, Randy Waldrum, has been let go. One of the biggest problems Houston has continued to struggle with is what product they are putting on the field at any given moment. It has been hard to tell exactly what they were trying to accomplish with their personnel choices. Many of those were questionable choices from Waldrum, so we will see if Omar Morales, the interim coach, changes anything. The Dash will need to work a lot more on their defense and its formation as the Spirit are hungry for a win and will look to attack early and often. 

Game 3: Sky Blue vs. Portland Thorns

Sky Blue FC record: 4-3-1
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 13

Portland Thorns record: 3-1-3
Position: 5th
Total Points: 12

Sky Blue is coming in after a last-minute win against Orlando last week. Sky Blue will hope to see Kelley O’Hara back and will need her to help create opportunities for them to get ahead of Portland. Sky Blue has seemed to struggle a bit with consistency and the Thorns will make them pay if they are not careful. One of their biggest assets right now is surprisingly their rookie starting keeper, Kailen Sheridan. She has been key for them so far this season and has kept them ahead of level in many games already. The Thorns will attack but she should be up for the challenge. 

Portland will be hoping to see the return of Tobin Heath this week, as she was upgraded from “out” to “doubtful” last week on the injury report, but it is unlikely she will play. With her timeline still uncertain, they will need more production from their forwards. Christine Sinclair has been quiet this season for Portland, and they will need her to start finding her form in order to push for a better spot in the standings. Additionally, they will need every player to step up in order to get past a very in-form rookie in Kailen Sheridan. 

Game 4: Orlando Pride vs. Boston Breakers

Orlando Pride record: 1-3-3
Position: 8th
Total Points: 6

Boston Breakers record: 2-3-2
Position: 7th
Total Points: 8

Orlando seems to know what their issues are but they have yet to fully solve said issues. As we saw last week against Sky Blue, Orlando’s biggest enemy right now seems to be themselves. The pieces are there, the plan seems to be there, but they are struggling to see out games. In order to be successful this week against the Breakers, they must get on the board early but continue to play until the final whistle at full force to see the game through. The Pride were always going to struggle in the midfield this season, but they need more production from individual players like Kristen Edmonds, who may need to be rotated out for someone like Nickolette Driesse, to see if she can help. The surprising defensive struggles most likely stem from the lack of a quality midfield that is continuing to get hammered. The Pride attack has seemed to start leveling off but they still have work to do, particularly finishing their good chances. They are capable of beating the Breakers, but they must curb their small, dumb, mistakes, and see out the game.

The Breakers will be looking for just their third win of the season, after starting out surprisingly good. Boston has a similar struggle to Orlando, in the sense of having trouble finishing out games when they are ahead. Goalkeeper Abby Smith has been a saving grace for their team but one person is not enough to right this ship. Boston needs more and better production from both their attack and defense, to stave off Orlando’s (coming together) attack. 

Game 5: Chicago Red Stars vs. Seattle Reign

Chicago Red Stars record: 4-2-1
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 13

Seattle Reign record: 3-1-3
Position: 4th
Total Points: 12

The red-hot Red Stars will be looking to potentially take over the first spot this week if the results go their way, which is incentive to play steady against an also strong Seattle side. The Red Stars will be looking to do much of the same this week, and may potentially be able to get newly signed Yuki Nagasato some minutes. The variety of Red Stars connecting and producing goals this season will be their key in getting through Seattle’s midfield. The Chicago defense also continues to be a strength. While Seattle will prove an attacking challenge, the Red Stars should be up to the test.

Seattle, coming off a very hard-fought match against the Dash last week will have to get ahead of the Red Stars early in order to be able to compete with a strong Chicago side. Seattle has one of the best midfield and has also seemed to settle on a starting backline as well. The Reign will also see the return of Merritt Mathias this week from suspension, but I am unsure where she fits in the currently starting lineup. Laura Harvey seems to have her starting squad set and gelling in order to be quality competitors. Ultimately, the Seattle attack will need a lot of production to get past the Red Stars defense. And the defense will also have its work cut out with the Chicago attack hitting their stride as well. 

The Scouting Report:

We went live on Monday night with our Week 7 TSR, recapping all of the NWSL games from the weekend. A reminder that you can catch TSR live every Monday night at 8pm EST on our YouTube channel. And make sure to follow the podcast on Twitter @ScoutingPodcast. 

In case you missed this week’s episode, catch up here:

As always, comments and feedback are appreciated. You can also find me on Twitter. Come back next week for the next edition of Off the Bench!

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