By MIKE McCALL
With any luck, the National Women’s Soccer League will have just one team atop the standings after this weekend.
The Portland Thorns and Sky Blue FC have sat neck and neck for weeks, and they come into Saturday’s showdown level on 25 points, although SBFC holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
That’s the highest profile of the NWSL’s three matches this weekend, but there’s plenty on the line elsewhere, as the Western New York Flash try to extend their league-record unbeaten streak and all the teams welcome back their stars from international duty.
The games will be streamed live online, and for a closer look, here are the matchups (all times local):
SKY BLUE FC vs. PORTLAND THORNS (Saturday, 7 pm)
These two have been joined at the hip, making this one of the biggest contests of the season so far.
Both teams will have their big guns available, including Alex Morgan (five goals) and Christine Sinclair (four) for the Thorns (8-2-1), and Sophie Schmidt (five) for SBFC (8-2-1).
The clubs met once before this season, when SBFC notched a 1-0 victory at JELD-WEN Field. This is Portland’s chance to get revenge and erase that head-to-head tiebreaker in one shot, while also taking over first place. Of course, another win for Sky Blue FC would put them on very solid ground, but with the way these two have been in recent weeks, a tie would not come as a shock.
FC KANSAS CITY vs. WASHINGTON SPIRIT (Sunday, 3:10 pm)
If you’re FC Kansas City, you’ve got to go into this one expecting a win. With a four-point lead over Boston and Chicago for the final playoff spot, FCKC (5-4-1) can widen that gap a bit more with a home victory against a Spirit squad that has dropped three straight.
Washington (1-5-3) is adrift in seventh place, and if Seattle ever pulls itself together, it’s a safe bet the Spirit could finish the year in last. Renae Cuellar (five goals) and Lauren Cheney (four) are the ones to watch for the home squad, while Diana Matheson (four goals) and Washington will try to score for the first time in more than a month.
WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH vs. SEATTLE REIGN (Sunday, 4:05 pm)
Thanks to Brittany Taylor’s 89th-minute equalizer in a 2-2 draw with the Red Stars earlier this week, the Flash (5-2-3) stretched their record unbeaten streak to seven (5-0-2).
They’ll have a chance to go for eight against a team that has yet to win this year, as the Reign (0-9-1) haven’t even earned a point since their season opener.
Lost in that stat is the fact that Seattle has played a bit better in recent weeks, but WNY still comes in a heavy favorite — especially at home and with Abby Wambach coming off her world-record-smashing play with the U.S.
A win would give the Flash a nine-point cushion for a playoff spot, which seems like a very likely outcome midway through the season.
Who takes the battle for first place? Can the Spirit find the net? Do the Flash keep rolling, or is this the week Seattle gets on the board?
Share your thoughts below.