By MIKE McCALL
The league-wrecking, stars-on-international-duty disclaimer aside, Chicago is making some noise in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Entering June, the Red Stars were winless and hopelessly adrift near the bottom of the table, seeming destined to flounder around alongside Seattle for the title of the league’s next-to-worst team.
Four games later, Chicago has three wins and can legitimately consider itself a playoff contender — assuming recent results hold up during weeks when the league’s top players aren’t out playing for their national teams.
That was just one of the takeaways from Week 10 in the NWSL, where the leaders held serve and a once-strong contender continued its free fall. Here’s a complete rundown, along with our updated Power Rankings:
FLASH STRIKE AGAIN
Western New York extended its unbeaten streak to six games and moved into third place with a 2-0 win at the Washington Spirit.
Even without stars Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd and Samatha Kerr, the Flash jumped ahead early with two first-half goals from Veronica Perez and Vicki DiMartino — enough of a lead to survive a second half in which they tallied zero shots and spent most of their time defending.
The match was the Spirit’s first since May 25, and it was an unhappy return to the field. The Spirit have now fallen to seventh place behind the once-lowly Red Stars by five points, leaving them a long way from the playoff race.
THORNS STILL SHARP WITHOUT STARS
The NWSL’s Pacific Northwest rivalry remains one-sided. Even without stars Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair, Portland had enough firepower to put away Seattle 2-0 in front of a crowd of 13,802 at JELD-WEN Field.
Of course, the Reign had absences of their own — most notably goalkeeper Hope Solo — but the Thorns’ Danielle Foxhoven and Meleana Shim filled in capably to keep one of the league’s top attacks firing on all cylinders.
The win helped the Timbers keep pace with Sky Blue FC atop the table, and the club will be buoyed by the addition of U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath after the completion of her season in France. Seattle has a similar boost on the way in the form of midfielder Megan Rapinoe.
ANOTHER WIN FOR CHICAGO
Facing FC Kansas City for the second time in four days, the Chicago Red Stars came away with the upper hand this time, notching a 3-1 win on the road to keep its midseason resurrection going.
FCKC took a quick lead when Renae Cuellar found the net in the fourth minute, but Chicago responded forcefully. Inka Grings equalized, Ella Masar gave the Red Stars the lead and then Sonja Fuss put it away in stoppage time.
It was another game weakened by international duty, but the bottom line is that Chicago now finds itself in the playoff picture, five points behind FCKC for fourth.
SKY BLUE FC STILL ON TOP
Sky Blue FC seemed in danger of faltering after a rough loss to the Flash last weekend, but a trip to Boston was all they needed to get back on track.
Even without top goalscorer Sophie Schmidt, SBFC racked up three goals via Lisa De Vanna, Monica Ocampo and Katy Freels-Frierson. Boston — missing Sydney Leroux and Heather O’Reilly — got goals from Joanna Lohman and Kyah Simon, but Simon’s stoppage-time score was only enough to cut the Breakers’ losing margin to 3-2.
While the New Jersey outfit hangs with Portland in first, Boston is sinking fast, now four points out of a playoff spot and just a point ahead of Chicago.
Here’s how they stand after Week Nine:
1. Sky Blue FC (8-2-1, 25 pts) – Get the nod ahead of Portland by virtue of beating a stronger opponent. | (Last week: 2)
2. Portland Thorns FC (8-2-1, 25 pts) – Interchangeable with SBFC right now. Both look destined for the playoffs. | (1)
3. Western NY Flash (5-2-2, 17 pts) – Nice to see some depth in a strong win without the stars. The Flash have become a force. | (3)
4. Chicago Red Stars (3-5-2, 11 pts) – If they were a male model, they’d be Hansel. It might be a fluke, but the Red Stars are undeniably hot right now. | (6)
5. FC Kansas City (5-4-1, 16 pts) – Still firmly in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. | (4)
6. Boston Breakers (3-4-3, 12 pts) – Breakers need to get it together before their playoff dreams broken. And now they face a suddenly formidable Seattle side. | (5)
7. Seattle Reign FC (0-9-1, 1 pt) – If it seems odd to move a winless team up, well, it is. But the addition of Rapinoe means times should be changing soon. | (8)
8. Washington Spirit (1-5-3, 6 pts) – Chicago’s rise and Rapinoe’s return leave the Spirit looking like the bottom-feeders. | (7)
Is Chicago for real? Think Seattle is due for a win? Do the Flash have a shot at the lead?
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