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NWSL Week 16 preview

Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns FC
Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns FC

The Thorns have their sights set on 1st place, but they would love to get Christine Sinclair scoring goals again. (Photo Copyright Thad Bell for www.womens.soccerly.com | http://www.tpbphoto.com/)

For the second time in just over a month Sky Blue will play host to a battle between the league’s top two teams.  This time, though, they’re looking up at FC Kansas City, who can clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by the Red Stars and Breakers.  Here is a closer look at the remainder of the Week 16 action in NWSL:

Boston Breakers (5-7-5) at Washington Spirit (1-11-4)
Saturday, 7 p.m. EDT
Maryland SoccerPlex
Series:  Breakers lead, 1-0-2

Quick Look: The Spirit are now officially playing out the string and the Breakers figure to be doing the same soon, although they cannot be eliminated this weekend.  Once upon a time these teams played to a pair of 1-1 draws and it could have been argued the Spirit were better in both.  Then the Breakers dismantled the Spirit 3-0 on May 25, the second in what is now a streak of 10 straight matches without either a win or goal from the run of play for the NWSL’s bottomfeeders.  Ali Krieger, Robyn Gale and Toni Pressley are all out for the Spirit and Candace Chapman—a late scratch last weekend—is probable.

Tactical Short: The Breakers’ strikers are banged up just like the Spirit back line, but none of the Breakers scorers are expected to miss the match.  In the best of times the Spirit have difficulty working the ball off their back four.  Without Krieger it could be a long night if Sydney Leroux sets the tone with some high pressure.

FC Kansas City (9-4-5) at Sky Blue FC (9-4-4)
Sunday, 6 p.m. EDT
Yurcak Field
Series:  Sky Blue lead, 1-0-1

Quick Look: It’s another top of the table clash at Yurcak, although this one needs to be tempered with the knowledge that the third-place Thorns have matches in hand on both and a higher maximum point potential.  Nevertheless the best team during the first half will try to get back on track against the current in-form team, Kansas City.  The Blues are unbeaten in their last eight, but two of those were draws that saw them lead by two goals with less than five minutes to play, and one of those was in their other trip to New Jersey.

Tactical Short: Sky Blue are suddenly riddled with injuries.  Caitlin Foord and Kelley O’Hara are ruled out for this one and Manya Makoski is doubtful.  That means there will be a substitute right back—Maddie Thompson maybe?—and she will have to deal with Erika Tymrak, an emerging midfield star who benefits from time and space left open by opponents’ need to shadow Lauren Holiday.

Chicago Red Stars (6-7-4) at Portland Thorns FC (9-4-3)
Sunday, 7 p.m. EDT (FOX Soccer, note time change)
JELD-WEN Field
Series:  Thorns lead, 2-1-0

Quick Look: The Red Stars are in danger of being the first team shutout of points on the Pacific Northwest swing after getting pelted 4-1 in Seattle on Thursday.  The Thorns are still trying to find their best footing but they do have a draw and win in their last two matches thanks to some clutch goals by Meleana Shim.  They would be far more comfortable in the last month if they could get Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair off the mark.

Tactical Short: The Red Stars won their first game of the season in Portland, albeit against a Thorns side minus their U.S. and Canadian internationals.  Even with a full slate though the Red Stars are set up to trouble the Thorns with their physical style and glut of defensive-oriented players.  Look for the Thorns to call on Tobin Heath to spray the ball around and keep the Red Stars’ defense guessing.

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