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NWSL Week 17 Preview

Cat Whitehill will make her debut as player/interim coach when the Breakers host the Flash on Saturday at Dilboy Stadium. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for www.womens.soccerly.com)

Just when the roster freeze deadline passed and it looked like we were all settled in for the homestretch the Breakers went and changed coaches.  It won’t be easy going for Cat Whitehill in her new role as player/interim head coach.  A loss to the Flash and any result for Sky Blue will call an end to the Breakers’ playoff hopes.  Here is a closer look at the remainder of the Week 17 action in NWSL:

Western New York Flash (8-4-6) at Boston Breakers (6-7-5)
Saturday, 6 pm EDT
Dilboy Stadium
Series:  Breakers lead, 1-0-1

Quick Look:  The Breakers will try to put together a miracle finish under Cat Whitehill who on Friday added interim head coach to her role as captain and starting center back.  They will play the Flash twice over the last three weekends and even if they get all six points there is no guarantee of getting by them in the table.  For the Flash, after 17 straight with the same starting back line they will play their second straight with different personnel.  Alex Sahlen is listed as questionable on the injury report but Jeff DiVeronica of the Democrat and Chronicle tweeted that she did not make the trip to Boston.  The Flash can clinch a playoff berth with a win and a Red Stars loss.  The Breakers are eliminated with a loss and a draw or better by Sky Blue.

Tactical Short:  The jury is out as to whether Whitehill shakes up the lineup.  If she does, she may want to consider going with one defensive midfielder similar to how the Breakers played Sky Blue a few weeks ago when they attacked wider and kept their opponents off balance.  In the back Julie King will be called on to contain Samantha Kerr whose fortunes seem to run concurrently with those of the Flash.

Washington Spirit (1-13-4) at Sky Blue FC (9-6-4)
Saturday, 7 pm EDT
Yurcak Field
Series:  Sky Blue lead, 2-0-0

Quick Look:  The two most injury-plagued teams in NWSL square off with Sky Blue looking to solidify themselves as a playoff team and the Spirit still searching for their first win since May 16.  Sky Blue added Danesha Adams to their injury report this week and Lisa De Vanna is doubtful, although they may get Manya Makoski back.  The Spirit could have Ali Krieger and Robyn Gayle available meaning they could actually trot out a workable group of defenders.  Despite their recent struggles—1-4-3 since June 22—Sky Blue can clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Spirit and neither the Breakers nor Red Stars win.

Tactical Short:  Sky Blue should have a full complement of midfielders to select from meaning they could start Brittany Bock, Katy Freels, and Sophie Schmidt.  That group would be a handful for the Spirit to deal with.  But if they revert to using Krieger behind Diana Matheson on the right side it could trouble a Sky Blue team vulnerable to strong wing play.

Seattle Reign FC (5-10-3) at Chicago Red Stars (6-7-5)
Saturday, 7 pm EDT
Benedictine University Sports Complex
Series:  Reign lead, 2-0-1

Quick Look:  The Reign and Red Stars return to where it all started this season when they played to a 1-1 draw on opening day at Benedictine.  Both teams then slid to the bottom of the standings but both have played better of late with the Reign now 5-1-2 over their last eight and the Red Stars recently at .500 before losing last week in Seattle.  Lori Chalupny’s injury does not appear to be as serious as it first looked but she has been ruled out for this one leaving a huge hole in the Chicago midfield.  A loss and a Sky Blue win eliminate them from playoff contention.  The Reign chances fade unless they win out and the Flash lose out with some extra help from Chicago and Boston.

Tactical Short:  The Red Stars had few answers for the Reign in their most recent encounter.  Megan Rapinoe owned the left flank and attacked in two ways, switching the point when nothing was there for herself.  The Red Stars’ best tonic would be to own the midfield in terms of possession, not something that tends to be a strength.

FC Kansas City (10-4-5) at Portland Thorns FC (10-4-4)
Sunday, 8:30 pm EDT (FOX Soccer, note time change)
JELD-WEN Field
Series:  tied, 1-1-1

Quick Look:  Another battle for first place, this one set to play out on national television.  FC Kansas City have not lost in nine matches, but their lead is tenuous over the Thorns who maintain a match in hand.  The teams who staged the first match in league history last met at the end of June and the Blues stifled Portland in a 2-0 victory.  Kansas City forward Melissa Henderson is listed as questionable with a left knee contusion, the result of a collision with Sky Blue’ Brittany Cameron last Sunday.  Thorns’ forward Alex Morgan played one of her best matches of the season in Wednesday’s victory over Sky Blue, a good sign for a club trying to find its best attacking self.  Either team clinches with a win.  FC Kansas City clinches with a draw.  Both teams clinch if the Breakers and Red Stars both fail to win.

Tactical Short:  Look for the Thorns to attack FCKC center back Lauren Sesselmann, the weakest technical defender and most likely to commit fatal fouls on the Blues’ back line.  To do that they will have to prevent Lauren Holiday and Erika Tymrak from controlling the midfield with their dynamic play and move the ball quickly to keep Desiree Scott from controlling it with her ball-winning skills.

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