Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By KAREEN DROT
Eight teams return to action for the National Women’s Soccer League on Saturday including the Western New York Flash, who are returning after a bye week with some potentially big changes.
Key midfielder Carli Lloyd received a two-game suspension for “use of excessive force” during a foul in week two, but Abby Wambach is set to make her 2014 debut at their home-opener against Portland Thorns FC.
Portland enters the week undefeated following a big 3-1 win last weekend against FC Kansas City, a team that finally won their first match on Wednesday, shutting out of an inconsistent Chicago team. Now FCKC travel to play Houston, another team that is still looking for a consistent rhythm.
And for the first time this season, four clubs will have rematches as the Washington Spirit will welcome Seattle after losing to the Reign just last week, and Boston travels to New Jersey to meet Sky Blue – the only team yet to win a game this year and who has struggled since Boston’s 3-2 win in week 3.
Here’s a closer look at this week’s NWSL matchups:
SEATTLE REIGN FC at WASHINGTON SPIRIT (Saturday at 6:30 PM ET – watch live)
The difference between both squads, aside from consistency, is scoring. At 10 goals, Seattle has double the amount of goals Washington has so far this season. But Seattle’s goals are a team effort. In four games, seven players found the back of the net for the Reign, meaning Washington’s back four is going to be busy trying to figure out how best to keep the Seattle offense at bay.
Washington’s Crystal Dunn and Diana Matheson are a strong scoring combination and could be what gets the Spirit on the board, but the challenge is finding enough space to move centrally and slip past a steadfast Seattle defense.
BOSTON BREAKERS at SKY BLUE FC (Saturday at 7:00 PM ET – watch live)
Sky Blue’s defense is strong but Boston’s offense is supported by two clinical finishers, Lianne Sanderson and Heather O’Reilly. Lisa De Vanna’s speed could be used by Boston to distract the opposition to give O’Reilly and Sanderson time to send the ball on target.
But Boston’s disorganized defense could put the game in favor of Sky Blue, especially if SBFC has Kelley O’Hara and Caitlin Foord working the flanks to keep possession and find Katy Freels or Monica Ocampo up the field. Both are the best scorers for Sky Blue, but they get little support from the midfield as Sophie Schmidt has struggled to regain her leadership role this season.
PORTLAND THORNS FC at WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH (Saturday at 7:00 pm ET – watch live)
The pressure to score and get the Flash back on track after a loss to Chicago might fall on Abby Wambach as Carli Lloyd is riding a two-game suspension and the Spanish internationals, Vicky Losada and Adriana Martin, struggled to create scoring opportunities since their opening week.
This could be where Portland outplays the Flash, as the Thorns now have two sources for goals – Allie Long and Jessica McDonald, not to mention the playmaking of Mana Shim, who is skilled at finding pockets for her teammates. The main obstacle for Portland would be to get around a formidable Flash defense that is anchored by Brittany Taylor.
FC KANSAS CITY at HOUSTON DASH (Saturday at 8:00 PM ET – watch live)
Houston’s defense has conceded five goals in three games, but FC Kansas City is in a similar boat with seven goals conceded in four games.
Houston’s midfield struggles to play wide, so playing on the flank could be a great opportunity for FCKC’s Jen Buczkowski to use her speed and link up with Merritt Mathias or Amy Rodriguez outside the box. For Houston, Ella Masar or Jordan Jackson might play a big role stealing possession in the center and moving the ball forward down the wings for Stephanie Ochs.
What do you think of this weekend’s NWSL slate? Think Wambach will be enough of a game-changer without Lloyd? Will Seattle stay perfect? Will our first rematches of the year bring some surprises?
Share your thoughts below.