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NWSL Week 7 preview: Busy holiday weekend

The Houston Dash will kick off a busy weekend hosting the Red Stars, then fly to Washington to play the Spirit on Monday.

Chicago Red Stars (4-2-1) at Houston Dash (1-5-1)
BBVA Compass Stadium
Friday, 8 pm EDT
Series: Red Stars lead, 1-0-0

The Red Stars are riding an NWSL franchise-best three-game winning streak that began with a 1-0 win over the Dash in a wet, delayed affair back in Chicago. The return match figures to see much more energy with better conditions and more than 4,000 expected. The Dash got a huge boost last match when they came from behind twice to earn a point in Kansas City, and now they have their sights set on their first result—and goal—in front of the home fans.

What to watch for: Nina Burger has added some experience and composure to the Dash front line, assisting on a goal off a long ball in Kansas City. That will be an added concern for the Red Stars who won’t be able to contain the Dash strictly by clogging up the midfield. The Red Stars though, broke out for seven goals in two matches in Boston so their attack will have newfound confidence in its second try against a young Dash defense.

Sky Blue FC (1-3-4) at Portland Thorns FC (4-1-2)
Providence Park
Saturday, 10 pm EDT
Series: tied, 1-1-2 (0-0-1 in 2014)

Sky Blue should have beaten the Thorns in their home opener but Kelley O’Hara fired her penalty kick wide in stoppage time. And they should have beaten the Spirit on the weekend, but conceded a penalty in stoppage time. They can ill afford to drop many more points which makes this visit to Portland as pivotal as it is untimely on only two days’ rest with cross-country travel. The once-beaten Thorns appear to be improving each week and the players in the current rotation will be looking to prove themselves worthy ahead of the return/arrival of the club’s missing players.

What to watch for: O’Hara looked good in her first extended time off the back line Saturday and finally scored her first NWSL goal. She could give a stout challenge to the Thorns young outside backs Courtney Niemiec and Kat Tarr. Or her presence could convince Paul Riley to go with Rebecca Moros or Sarah Huffman on the left side. With O’Hara’s scoring drought over, the Thorns will certainly be looking to do the same for Christine Sinclair whose last league goal sealed the 2013 championship.

FC Kansas City (3-4-2) at Boston Breakers (1-5-0)
Harvard Stadium
Sunday, 7 pm EDT
Series: FC Kansas City lead, 2-1-0

This is the final match of a grueling stretch for FC Kansas City who has played every midweek and weekend since April 26. Most recently they were the first team to take points off the Reign in a 1-1 draw and can finish the stretch .500 for the season with a win in this one. For the Breakers it is the middle point of a five-game homestand and also the first of three over eight days. The first two at Harvard Stadium did not go well, losing twice to the Red Stars by an aggregate 7-2.

What to watch for: The absence of Kia McNeill continues to dog the Breakers, who cannot seem to field a fully functional back line. Mollie Pathman tried her luck on Sunday but was routinely beat by Red Stars attackers. If she’s there again look for the Blues to pester her with their array of technical players like Lauren Holiday and Merritt Mathias. If the Breakers send midfield help, the in-form Erika Tymrak could get more space on the left flank.

Western New York Flash (3-3-1) at Seattle Reign FC (7-0-1)
Harvard Stadium
Sunday, 7 pm EDT
Series: tied, 1-1-1

The first meeting this season between the defending regular season champions and the club poised to replace them. The Flash twice caught the Reign during their stretch of success last summer and were held to a draw in Western New York that snapped the Reign’s nine-match losing streak. Now the Reign are tops in the league and the Flash are mired in a rare slump that has seen them lose two straight and play some of their worst soccer in years. Abby Wambach called out some of her teammates after a loss in Washington and that was followed by a mostly disjointed effort in Portland. Seattle does not appear the ideal place to right a ship.

What to watch for: The contrast in styles here should be fascinating. The Flash are playing more physical than ever while the Reign are at their best knocking the ball around on the ground with short passes. If they truly resemble FC Kansas City that is good news for the Flash who have given the Blues trouble. Look for the Flash to play more direct and for the Reign to try and knock the ball around midfield in search of the final, decisive pass.

Houston Dash (1-5-1 pending Friday result) at Washington Spirit (3-4-1)
Maryland SoccerPlex
Monday, 4 pm EDT
Series: first meeting

The Spirit will be hoping their fan base likes holiday soccer as they conclude a three-match home stretch with a Memorial Day affair against the Dash. Their draw against Sky Blue was equal parts frustrating and satisfying. The frustration was in making far too many mistakes against a team they probably should be beaten. The satisfaction came in rallying for two late goals to snatch a point out of it. The Dash will be plenty tuckered out having to travel following their Friday night home meeting with Chicago.

What to watch for: Speedy flank players Crystal Dunn and Diana Matheson could make life difficult for a Dash side that won’t have much rest after playing Friday. But if the Dash are up to their high-pressure tactics they could force the Spirit into some of the same mistakes they made against Sky Blue.

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