Off the Bench with Backline Soccer, International Break #1


Backline Soccer Recap:

Quick Fire Week 9 Game Previews:

This week we see the return of the NWSL as we enter Week 9 of games. Let’s take a look at this week’s matchups.

Game 1: Chicago Red Stars vs. Washington Spirit

Chicago Red Stars record: 5-2-1
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 16

Washington Spirit record: 2-5-1
Position: 9th
Total Points: 7

Things have finally started to click for Chicago in the last several games. They should not have a big test against the Spirit this week but will want to not underestimate them. The one thing that could potentially be a deterrent is the fact that four of their starters, Alyssa Naeher, Christen Press, Julie Ertz, and Casey Short all saw minutes in the USWNT friendlies. With the out-of-country trip, these players may not be as fresh as the ones who have had no matches to play since June 4th. I don’t think this will be a huge problem, especially in this match, but it could factor in. Chicago will look to gain ground on the Courage this week and if they continue in their current form, I don’t see any problems with accomplishing that. 

The Spirit are really looking to just get their season turned around. They will have a big test in attack to get past the Chicago defense and will also have trouble containing an in-form Christen Press. Steph Labbé will have her work cut out for her. Tori Huster has not yet returned, and her absence on the field has definitely been noticed. Additionally, Mal Pugh picked up an injury in warm-ups of the USWNT/Norway matchup and will be out of action this weekend according to Dan Lauletta. 

Game 2: North Carolina Courage vs. Boston Breakers

North Carolina Courage record: 6-3-0
Position: 1st
Total Points: 18

Boston Breakers record: 2-4-2
Position: 8th
Total Points: 8

The Courage are looking to retain their hold on their first place ranking with a win. The extent of the injury to Lynn Williams could pose a problem to this. Williams was in a boot for the duration of the USWNT matches, there’s been no word as yet regarding the extent of her injury. Losing Yuri Kawamura is also a blow to their defense, which had already been showing some signs of weakness. They will look to spur the attack against Boston this week and try to hold their defensive line. 

Boston is going to have to scramble to figure out just what needs to be done to turn their season around.They started out well, surprising everyone, but the past few games they’ve slipped and fallen in the rankings. With both Rose Lavelle and Allysha Chapman sustaining injuries during the FIFA break, Boston will have a hard time replacing their form and presence on the pitch. They will look to players like Natasha Dowie and Adriana Leon to step up even more than usual to try to carry this team through. Their work will be cut out for them against the strong attack of the Courage. 

Game 3: FC Kansas City vs. Seattle Reign

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

Seattle Reign record: 3-2-3
Position: 5th
Total Points: 12

FCKC will be looking to pick themselves up after a not-so-great outing against the Courage before the FIFA break. While Sydney Leroux traveled with the USWNT, she did not see any minutes, so she should hopefully be fresh and ready to drive the attack, which FCKC will desperately need. FCKC will also be dependent once again on Becky Sauerbrunn to lead the defense, even after playing every minute of the USWNT friendlies, as well. They will need to find a way to hold off the Reign attack and pressure from the midfield.

The Reign are also coming in after a tough loss to the Red Stars before the FIFA break. With the hope of getting Bev Yanez back this week, the Reign will are going to be attacking FCKC early and often. Additionally, Megan Rapinoe saw very little minutes in the USWNT friendlies so if her season NWSL form continues, and there is no reason it shouldn’t, FCKC is going to have a lot of trouble controlling tempo and resisting the pressure attack from the Reign. Most of all, one of the bigger assets Seattle has this season is goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer. Her form has harkened some noticeable Hope Solo qualities this season, which is a noticeable asset and trait for the Reign as she continues to hold it down in the back. FCKC will have trouble getting past her. 

Game 4: Houston Dash vs. Orlando Pride

Houston Dash record: 2-6-0
Position: 10th
Total Points: 6

Orlando Pride record: 2-3-3
Position: 7th
Total Points: 9

Houston announced they will keep Omar Morales as the interim head coach this season instead of looking for an immediate replacement for Randy Waldrum. With one match already under his belt, I am not sure if Morales sees the game and the Dash much differently right now than Waldrum but time will tell. The Dash just do not seem to have a cohesive plan and that will be their biggest thing to try to figure out, especially going up against a Pride team that is finally starting to connect their big pieces. The big benefit this week is the Dash will be getting Carli Lloyd back after her stint with Man City. She should inject a sense of urgency and order to the team. The Dash, though, mainly, need to figure out the best pieces to use and make sure to utilize them. Janine Beckie did incredible for Canada during this break but has not seen that translate to the Dash. If she can bring that back, the Dash could start to turn around their season.

The Pride are on the upswing, though fans ought to be cautious in their excitement, the team seems to be trending up in their play. With the announcement that Alex Morgan will miss an additional 3-4 weeks thanks to the hamstring injury she picked up in France, the hopes of a Marta/Morgan attack will have to wait a little longer. The Pride seemed to have settled on a defense, but are struggling mightily in the midfield. Tom Sermanni’s test this week will be to try to get that midfield figured out and finally settled. This week may prove who will end up being cut to make room for Alex Morgan’s return. 

Game 5: Portland Thorns vs. Sky Blue FC

Portland Thorns record: 4-1-3
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 15

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

It was announced this week that the timetable for the return of Tobin Heath has been extended, with no date set any longer for when she might return. The Thorns are still hanging around near the top of the table and in playoff contention, but the lack of the creativity and drive that Heath brings to the pitch may soon expose weaknesses other teams can exploit and capitalize upon. They also have some other players out are dealing with some injuries but will have the addition of Australian international Ashleigh Sykes this week. She will be a huge boost to the attack for the Thorns and may be what they need to help with the Heath-sized hole they have.

Sky Blue will have all of their pieces in play and will need each and every one of them to succeed. Christie Pearce is holding it down in the back but is working with a young defensive squad, which will need to be playing at their best against the Thorns. In addition, Sam Kerr, who could not seem to buy a goal last game, will need to spur the attack and try to find the back of the net early. International Kelley O’Hara, who was dealing with a slight strain a few weeks ago, may have picked up a small knock in the USWNT game against Norway, so her ability to play and also help in some capacity will be crucial. (As of this writing, there is no indication that any such injury will not see O’Hara play this weekend.) The biggest problem with O’Hara is the way Christy Holly has been shuffling her around the field to fill holes instead of tasking her with a single position and allowing her to perform and shine as we all know she can. Sky Blue will need to figure this portion out soon. 

The Scouting Report:

We went live on Monday night with our weekly TSR. This week we covered the two USWNT friendlies against Sweden and Norway. 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:

Come back next week for the next edition of Off the Bench.

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