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NWSL Week 3 Preview: Thorns host FCKC

The Thorns celebrated their title in front of traveling fans in Rochester. Saturday they'll celebrate again in the home opener at Providence Park. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer.)

Washington Spirit (1-2-0) at Chicago Red Stars (1-0-0)
Benedictine University Sports Complex
Saturday, 8 pm EDT
Series: Red Stars lead, 2-1-0

For the second time in four days the Spirit play on short rest away to a better rested home side. The difference was evident midweek in Seattle though the tenacity of the effort pleased coach Mark Parsons. The deck gets stacked even higher against them having to play without Christine Nairn who was injured in the final moments on Wednesday. The Red Stars meanwhile are looking to build on a promising start that saw them knock off the Flash in their season opener.

What to watch for: The Spirit will need better holdup play up top not only to create better scoring opportunities, but to prevent Julie Johnston from wandering too far up into midfield. The Sprit will also need Robyn Gayle to look more like she did Opening Day else she could have trouble with the speedy Jen Hoy.

{Edit — the Spirit injury report listed Christine Nairn as probably with a quad strain.}

FC Kansas City (0-1-1) at Portland Thorns FC (1-0-1)
Providence Park
Saturday, 10 pm EDT
Series: Kansas City lead, 2-1-1 (plus Thorns, 1-0-0 in playoffs)

These two did not play a dull match in 2013 including the playoff game which remains the only time in NWSL a team has won after trailing by two goals. This year’s versions are quite different with the Thorns adjusting to Paul Riley and Kansas City morphing from their successful 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. To say they have struggled with the shape change is an understatement. Both teams should be feeling the pressure, the Thorns for receiving their championship rings and opening at home after playing poorly there in ’13 and the Blues for trying to avoid what would be a disastrous start to be winless through three matches.

[More:  Kassouf on Thorns-Blues rivalry]

What to watch for: Shape change or not, the magic that fused through Lauren Holiday and Erika Tymrak last season has not been evident through the first three hours of the new season. And the Thorns are still searching for effective ways to play through to Christine Sinclair who has not been particularly close to scoring this season. If either team unlocks their own riddle it could be the difference in the choice match of the weekend.

Sky Blue FC (0-0-2) at Boston Breakers (0-2-0)
Harvard Stadium
Sunday, 7pm EDT
Series: Sky Blue lead, 2-1-1

The Breakers are the last team in NWSL stuck on 0 points after painfully losing their home-opener in which they led the expansion Dash 2-1 with less than 10 minutes to play. Alas they don’t have the market cornered on painful home openers. Sky Blue won a stoppage time penalty kick that should have given them three points against the Thorns, but Kelley O’Hara missed wide and they settled for a draw. Both teams have questions about who will score and neither has a goal yet from a traditional striker.

What to watch for: If the first two games have proven anything it’s that Courtney Jones is better off not trying to be Cat Whitehill’s central defense partner. If the Breakers give her another chance it could spell trouble. If not they’ll have to pick from a group of players all meant to play elsewhere. Kaylyn Kyle and Joanna Lohman, who were both good in midfield last week, seem like the most logical candidates.

Houston Dash (1-1-0) at Seattle Reign FC (2-0-0)
Memorial Stadium
Sunday, 7 pm EDT
Series: first meeting

The Dash figure to be flying high after scoring two late goals in Boston to notch their first ever NWSL win. Now they’ll have their mettle tested against a Reign side that looks best of the lot in the early going. The Dash do have the schedule in their favor after the Reign played midweek, but they are a young side going up against a club that has gelled incredibly quickly following Laura Harvey’s offseason overhaul.

What to watch for: The Dash want to play high pressure which could cause some disruption on what has been a smooth passing game for the Reign so far. That said if they overcommit or get caught out of position it could be a long day at the office. Becky Edwards has been sensational in the first two Dash matches and it is difficult to see the Dash leaving Seattle with a result without her doing the same again.

not playing this week: Western New York Flash

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