Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By KAREEN DROT
The first three weeks of the National Women’s Soccer League have not been kind to last season’s record-setting clubs. FC Kansas City and Sky Blue FC, this season’s bottom-dwellers to date, are double-billed in the fourth week, but their competition is nothing to scoff at.
After another disappointing loss over the weekend, last-place FCKC’s defense needs to figure out how to get back on track as they host the Chicago Red Stars, who sit in fourth. Meanwhile, second-last Sky Blue FC are set to take on the top-seeded Seattle Reign FC after Sky Blue last week suffered their first loss of the season to the Boston Breakers, who were ranked last going into that game.
The questions going into these midweek matchups are: What steps has FCKC taken to improve their defense, and how will SBFC rebuild their offense as both teams try to showcase their abilities to advance in the standings?
With an odd number of teams in the league, week four begins a long stretch of midweek games that will stretch through the season in addition to weekend match-ups.
Here’s a closer look at this week’s midweek NWSL matchups:
SATTLE REIGN FC at SKY BLUE FC (Wednesday at 7:00 pm ET – watch live)
Seattle has been consistently strong this year with a unit of players skilled at linking the ball that have managed to net eight goals in three games. Sky Blue need to reshuffle their forward lineup to try and overcome this Seattle powerhouse. Averaging one goal per game, Sky Blue’s offense usually fizzles out after halftime. This could be the when Seattle strikes for their fourth consecutive win.
Monica Ocampo and Kelley O’Hara could provide much needed support for Maya Hayes up top with Ocampo rallying to get SBFC on the board more than once. Her speed could distract Seattle’s defense but she would need O’Hara to open pockets for her around the box. Usually a fullback, O’Hara is good at creating opportunities on goal.
But, Seattle’s underlying strength in the midfield could topple Sky Blue early in the opening half. Centrally, the Reign is stacked with players that control their speed well to avoid falling behind the opposition. Sky Blue need to contain Seattle in the midfield to prevent any well placed balls 20 yards from the goal, an ideal place for Naho Kawasumi to find an open Reign player for a goal.
CHICAGO RED STARS at FC KANSAS CITY (Wednesday at 8:00 pm ET – watch live)
Two struggling teams looking to get back on form will meet on Wednesday in Kansas City for the first time this season. Chicago has a home win under their belts while FCKC has lost two straight games. While both sides struggle offensively, it’s FCKC’s crumbling defense that could decide this game in favor of Chicago.
Chicago should cover Amy Rodriguez and close down the channels between Lauren Holiday and Erika Tymrak. The Red Stars are fast, aggressive and smart, but take too much time to build set pieces. Chicago might have Vanessa Di Bernardo counter FCKC by finding Adriana Leon who is good at placing the ball on target. This tenacious duo could make things difficult for FCKC’s defense on Wednesday, especially with Alyssa Mautz and Lori Chalupny available for support.
For Kansas City, they may look to reinstate the 4-2-3-1 formation used against Portland and take more time on the ball to form one touch passes. The Red Stars back line, anchored by Julie Johnston and Rachel Quon, will try to snuff out these attacks, but might not be able to contend with Rodriguez and Merritt Mathias’s speed.
What do you think of these matchups? Can Seattle Reign stay perfect? Can FC Kansas City get their groove back?
Share your thoughts below.