By MIKE McCALL
There’s a first-place battle and a chance for all four playoff spots to be clinched in the National Women’s Soccer League this weekend — two days of matches that will go a long way to determining how the inaugural NWSL regular season wraps up.
At the top of the table, the upstart league leaders will travel to face their closest competitors in a nationally televised showdown, while three other teams will be fighting to keep their slim postseason hopes alive.
For more, here’s a closer look at the matchups (all times local).
CHICAGO RED STARS vs. SEATTLE REIGN (Saturday, 6 pm)
It’s a meeting of the two longest long-shots, as Seattle (5-10-3) needs to win its final four games along with four Western New York losses, while Chicago (6-7-5) is seven points out and in need of help from a few other teams.
If the Reign come away with anything less than three points, they’re out. And if the Red Stars lose while the Flash win, they’re out too.
A lot on the line for both squads here, but realistically, Seattle is out of the picture, and Chicago is a long way from a playoff contender.
BOSTON BREAKERS vs. WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH (Saturday, 6 pm)
The most straightforward of the matches with playoff implications. Boston (6-7-5) is seven points back of the Flash (8-4-6) with four games to play, but two of those are head to head.
If the Breakers lose this one, they’re out, and that would also make the odds much longer for Chicago. But with a win, they’d open the door to possibly having a chance to snatch a playoff spot during their next meeting on the last weekend of the season.
SKY BLUE FC vs. WASHINGTON SPIRIT (Saturday, 7 pm)
While all eyes are on the Flash to hold off the Breakers and Red Stars, Sky Blue FC (9-6-4) isn’t out of the woods yet. Once the league leaders, SBFC has fallen off the pace lately and could still wind up out of the playoffs by keeping up a recent run of poor form.
Fortunately for the club, this weekend brings a visit from Washington (1-13-4), which has managed just one point since the middle of May. With a victory, SBFC is playoff-bound.
PORTLAND THORNS vs. FC KANSAS CITY (Sunday, 5:30 pm)
It’d be a shock for either of these teams to miss the playoffs, so rather than finishing top four, this one is about who will take home the first regular season crown.
Based on recent results, FCKC (10-4-5) is in the driver’s seat. The club has three wins in a row and perhaps the league MVP in Lauren Holiday (formerly Lauren Cheney), who is tied for the NWSL lead with 10 goals.
On the other side, Portland (10-4-4) has been somewhat disappointing despite a solid record, not matching up to the largely unrealistic preseason hype. One match won’t be a cure-all, but the Thorns can make a big statement here. A win would vault them into first with a game in hand, putting them in a very strong position with only a few matches remaining.
Following Wednesday’s 3-1 win over SBFC and with the JELD-WEN Field crowd behind them, expect the Thorns to hold up their end of the bargain in a match that will be televised on Fox Soccer.
Who are your picks? Is this the week the Thorns take over? Can Boston and Chicago stay alive? Does SBFC climb to safety?
Share your thoughts below.