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NWSL Week 2 preview: Red Stars make ’14 debut

Vanessa DiBernardo is expected to make her NWSL debut when the Red Stars host the Flash at Toyota Park. (Photo Copyright Arianna Grainey for The Equalizer)

FC Kansas City (0-0-1) at Washington Spirit (0-1-0)
Maryland SoccerPlex
Saturday, 6:30 p.m. EDT
Series: Kansas City lead, 1-0-1

The Spirit were overwhelmed late by the Flash on opening day and it will not get any easier with FC Kansas City coming to town. This one will be interesting in the late stages regardless of who is ahead. FCKC had highly publicized, late-game issues in 2013 and in Washington, head coach Mark Parsons was not happy with the mentality and body language late last weekend. The pressure is on the Spirit here, who head to Seattle midweek and won’t want to be 0-2 after starting with two games at the Plex.

What to watch for: The Spirit did not do much wide attacking against Western New York and that could be a problem with Jen Buczkowski controlling the center of the park defensively for the Blues. However, if Ali Krieger and Diana Matheson can get loose on the right flank as they did at times in 2013 it will be a stern test for Kansas City’s rookie left back Kassey Kallman.

Western New York Flash (1-0-0) at Chicago Red Stars (0-0-0)
Toyota Park
Saturday, 6:45 p.m. EDT
Series: tied, 1-1-1

The Red Stars will be the last team to open the 2014 season and they will do it in style, at Toyota Park as the back end of a doubleheader following the Fire’s MLS match against the New England Revolution. The Flash will most likely be without Abby Wambach (fractured orbital bone) for the second straight game; she is listed as doubtful. Last week her replacement, Vicky Losada, scored twice and served a sublime free kick for the assist on the third goal en route to Player of the Week honors. The Flash were also without Kat Williamson, but she is back from suspension and available to make her Flash debut.

What to watch for: The Red Stars appeared to hit the jackpot on draft day when they landed Julie Johnston and Vanessa DiBernardo. It is part of the reason the Red Stars promise to play more technical soccer this year than they did last. To do so against the Flash they will have to get by rugged midfielder Angela Salem. And the Red Stars’ best chance could be attacking undrafted rookie Haley Palmer if the Flash run her out at left back again.

Portland Thorns FC (1-0-0) at Sky Blue FC (0-0-1)
Yurcak Field
Saturday, 7 p.m. EDT
Series: tied, 1-1-1

When Sky Blue was last seen at Yurcak Field, few expected them to be back. But one rejection of a merger with the Red Bulls later and here they are with a popular opener against the league champion Thorns. Unfortunately the Thorns will again be without Alex Morgan and Rachel Van Hollebeke, who continue to rehab injuries. They looked poor without them last weekend but stole three points in Houston while Sky Blue opened with a share of spoils in Kansas City. These teams played two wildly entertaining matches in 2013 before the Thorns won big against a banged up Sky Blue side in the final meeting of the season.

What to watch for: The Thorns were unable to create anything dangerous for Christine Sinclair last week and as a result she spent more time in midfield during the second half. That would suit Sky Blue just fine. If Sinclair does get service it looks like Christie Rampone will play (officially listed as probable) after missing the opener with a foot issue. Rampone was on song both times Sky Blue shutout the Thorns in ’13.

Houston Dash (0-1-0) at Boston Breakers (0-1-0)
Harvard Stadium
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. EDT
Series: first meeting

The Breakers return to Harvard Stadium, where they played home games in WPS. They’ll be happy to get there after being dominated in Seattle a week prior. The Dash play their maiden road match after outplaying the Thorns in every aspect besides the scoreboard in a tough, 1-0 loss in their franchise-opener at BBVA Compass Stadium. Now they will have to deal with injuries. Brittany Bock is out for the season and 1st Round pick Kealia Ohai won’t play this week with a sprained right ankle. Someone will get their first points here and while 0-2 is not a death knell, neither is it an ideal start especially for these teams, who are both young and trying to find their way.

What to watch for: Even without Kristie Mewis, the Breakers have lots of speed, something the Dash did not have to deal with so much against the Thorns. They will have to find a way to keep the likes of Heather O’Reilly and Lisa De Vanna in check while Becky Edwards tries to deal with the ring leader, Lianne Sanderson. The Dash are also very young in back so watch out if De Vanna decides to spend time running at them rather than give them free service into midfield.

Not playing this week: Seattle Reign FC

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