Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIPhotos.com
By MIKE McCALL
After a half-slate of games in Week Two, the National Women’s Soccer League is back with all eight teams in action this weekend.
Chalk it up to the low number of games (six), the player allocation system or the fact that international breaks kept teams from coming together in the preseason, but there hasn’t been much variety so far.
Four of those six matches have ended as 1-1 draws, and everyone enters Week 3 with a chance to take at least a share of first place. The Portland Thorns and FC Kansas City might be poised to get a little separation, while the Washington Spirit and Sky Blue FC will duke it out for the right to be called the league’s “upstart.” Meanwhile, the Western New York Flash will try to get their first win without their biggest star.
Matches will be streamed live via the league’s YouTube channel, and to get you ready, here is a look at the weekend’s matchups:
FC KANSAS CITY vs. SEATTLE REIGN FC (Friday, 7:35pm)
Week One was a hot start for FC Kansas City, what with an impressive draw against the Thorns in front of a standing-room-only home crowd. Unfortunately for FCKC, it didn’t get a chance to build on that last weekend, as its home game against the Breakers was postponed due to increased security measures surrounding the bombings and ensuing manhunt in Boston.
Will performances (and crowds) like the debut be the norm in Kansas City? This one will go a long way toward revealing that, and the Reign will face their second tough environment in as many weeks after a 2-1 loss at Portland. Midfielder Jess Fishlock will be one to watch, having scored Seattle’s goal against the Thorns and being voted NWSL Player of the Week. In related news, injured Reign and U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo gave you her phone number this week. Congratulations!
CHICAGO RED STARS vs. PORTLAND THORNS FC (Saturday, 7 pm)
All appears right with the world in the Rose City after that 2-1 win against Seattle, where the Thorns smashed attendance records and got the dream combination of a Christine Sinclair-to-Alex Morgan goal.
Now they’ll hit the road to face a Chicago team that sits at the opposite end of the spectrum, without all the title expectations and big names. As the Yankees of the NWSL, Portland should get a tough match from everyone they play, and the overlooked Red Stars will be looking to make a splash. Top draft pick Zakiya Bywaters, forward Ella Masar and Week 1 goalscorer Lori Chalupny will be counted on to answer the vaunted Thorns attack.
WASHINGTON SPIRIT vs. SKY BLUE FC (Saturday, 7 pm)
It’s still super, super early, but few would have expected to see these two teams in second and third place at any point. Sky Blue FC hopped ahead of the pack with a season-opening upset of the Flash, while the Spirit’s defense-first approach has produced a pair of 1-1 draws.
The best news for Washington is that it has managed to score in both contests — a major worry entering the year since the attack runs mostly through very young players. On the troubling side, the Spirit have allowed late goals in both games: a stoppage-time equalizer in Boston and one in the 84th minute last week. Sky Blue FC will be looking for its first goal (the team’s win came via an own goal) and a repeat performance from backup keeper Brittany Cameron, who dazzled in Week 1.
WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH vs. BOSTON BREAKERS (Saturday, 7:35 pm)
The big news in this one: no Abby Wambach. The Flash forward took a ball to the face late against the Spirit and was dazed on the field, and while tests for a concussion didn’t reveal anything, the team announced it will hold her out as a precautionary measure — a particularly good call given her propensity to head the ball.
How will the Flash respond without their star and leader? Wambach’s injury robs this one of a U.S. forward showdown between her and Boston’s Sydney Leroux, but there’s still enough attacking talent for the Flash to put on a show in their home debut. And on the other side, how will the Breakers bounce back after a very edgy and emotional time in Boston? For a look at just how scary things got, check out how defender Kia McNeill spent her Friday.
Will Portland stand out again? Do you buy the Spirit or Sky Blue FC as contenders? Think the Flash can get by without Wambach?
Share your thoughts below.