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NWSL Week 20 Preview: Pride Can Clinch Playoffs

NWSL Week 20 kicks off a little earlier than planned as Seattle’s game at Orlando was moved up due to the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irma. This makes for the second week in a row in which Seattle’s game has been altered due to a hurricane after last week’s game in flooded Houston was moved to Dallas.

Seattle Reign FC (8-7-6) at Orlando Pride (10-6-5)

Thursday, 8:00 p.m. EDT, Orlando City Stadium
All-time series: tied, 1-1-1
In Orlando: Pride lead, 1-0-0
Last meeting: May 21, 2017; 1-1 draw

If Orlando wins this match, they punch the third ticket to the playoffs, no small feat considering they finished their inaugural season in ninth place. The team has come a long way, not only since last season but even since the first few months of this season. The offense clicked once again against Boston last week, putting up four goals despite Alex Morgan not scoring for the first time in six games. Rookie Rachel Hill notched her first brace and likely earned herself another start, while Chioma Ubogagu dominated the left flank and Marta added one more. However, while the offense continues to charge full steam ahead, the defense gave up two late game goals, the second off a set piece. It’s the same story time and time again for Orlando, and a tendency to slack off defensively in the second half could prove deadly if not for the season, then in the playoffs. Seattle has great options off the bench, like Katie Johnson, who could deal fatal damage if the Pride backline gets sloppy.

Seattle controlled large portions of the first half and the entirety of the second against Houston on Sunday. Had it not been for a seven-save game from Jane Campbell, the scoreline would have been more lopsided, and they held the Dash to only three shots on goal. However, the Pride have scored more than twice the goals than the Dash this season. The Reign will want to avoid getting stretched defensively, especially on the flanks where Ubogagu, Steph Catley, and Camila can all deliver quality service into the box. Lydia Williams is likely to get her second start and will have to work hard to keep her backline organized. The Reign should press the Pride and maintain possession of the ball, as midfield turnovers can cost them goals. Having Megan Rapinoe for more than a quarter of an hour will help, but she’s still not likely fit for more than a half, and the jury is still out on whether or not her final touch is back yet.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Camila

With Kristen Edmonds out again, Camila should line up at right back. She finds success when she gets forward, which she does frequently, but she does not want to get caught up the pitch against players like Rapinoe or Merritt Mathias, who took advantage of an errant fullback to score the lone goal against Houston.

Nahomi Kawasumi

With Rapinoe working her way back to fitness and Jess Fishlock not as effective as normal, it’s Kawasumi who provides that touch of magic. She consistently works off the ball to get herself in dangerous positions and has an eye for spotting teammates at the right time.

Keep an eye on:
• The goalkeepers: It was at Seattle that Ashlyn Harris got hurt, keeping her out for two months, while Lydia Williams (in a different uniform) gave up four goals the last time she faced the Pride.

{Read More: Run of Play: The Houston Dash don’t Stick to Sports | The Kronick Report: Kelly-Leroux capitalize on quick free kick}

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