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NWSL Week 13 Preview: Tobin’s back

Chicago Red Stars (6-6-2) at Portland Thorns FC (6-6-2)
Providence Park
Friday, 2 pm EDT
Series: Thorns lead, 2-1-1

The holiday weekend opens up with a morning kick in Portland. Interesting time for both teams with the Red Stars now winless in five matches and starting a five-match stretch of playing only the Thorns and Reign. The Thorns are also struggling having dropped recent matches to Sky Blue FC and FC Kansas City, generating precious little attack either game. Tobin Heath should be available for the Thorns for the first time this season, but the integration of other new players has been a slow process for the league champs.

What to watch for: Christen Press has yet to get going in her Red Stars career, but that should change now that she’ll have a healthy stretch of matches to play. Her speed and scoring prowess will put pressure on a Thorns back line that began the season playing well but has tailed off. And if Jen Hoy starts on the bench as she has when Press has played up to this point, she will be a dangerous set of fresh and speedy legs once morning turns to afternoon.

Western New York Flash (6-8-2) at Houston Dash (4-9-1)
BBVA Compass Stadium
Saturday, 9 pm EDT
Series: Dash lead, 2-0-0

The Flash, two games under .500, have the first-year Dash to thank for being that way. The expansion side has beaten them twice and could ultimately be the reason the defending regular season champs miss out on the playoffs. The games have been tight and entertaining though so look for more of the same here. Both teams should be chomping at the bit. The Flash dropped points from in front to the Reign for the third time on Wednesday, a match the Dash could have watched while they waited out a 4-1/2 hour rain delay that led to a postponed game at Sky Blue and a long trip to play no soccer.

What to watch for: Yet again the Dash will be trying to get Meghan Klingenberg some playing time. Whether she lines up at left back or left midfielder she will be difficult to handle and could lock horns with the Flash’s young Australian midfielder Samanatha Kerr. If they do it could be a key in determining which team gets more chances and which team can grind out a result.

FC Kansas City (9-4-3) at Sky Blue FC (3-6-7)
Yurcak Field
Sunday, 6 pm EDT
Series: tied, 1-1-2 (0-0-1 in 2014)

The Blues are in top form and will be looking to match the Reign by winning their 7th straight game. And they’ll need to keep winning if they have any chance of catching the Reign for 1st place. Sky Blue just need points, something they have secured in four straight matches though only one of those has been a win. The teams drew on opening night but both look much different today than they did in early April.

What to watch for: FC Kansas City loves to knock the ball around the midfield and get everyone involved before attempting to find a final pass, usually to Amy Rodriguez. Sky Blue is likely to start Sophie Schmidt in the holding midfield slot and the onus will be on her to keep possession on Sky Blue cleats or risk her teammates chasing for long stretches in the New Jersey evening.

Boston Breakers (3-10-2) at Seattle Reign FC (12-0-3)
Memorial Stadium
Sunday, 7 pm EDT
Series: Reign lead, 3-0-1 (2-0-1 in 2014)

The Reign will be looking to get two-thirds of the way through the season without losing whole the Breakers are all but eliminated from making any noise in August. And they’ll make this trip without Maddy Evans, who was shown a dubious red card in the team’s wild, 3-3 draw in Washington on Wednesday. The Reign welcomed Megan Rapinoe back on Wednesday and she quickly showed her mettle by neatly evading two defenders before spinning and firing a cross that wound up as the match-winning assist.

What to watch for: One reason the Reign have such a startlingly good midfield is because they have players there who can both defend and attack. It will make life difficult for the Breakers who are still searching for answers up top and who have yet to score in two matches against the Reign this season. Their best bet might be to try and use some of their speed to slip in on counters behind the Reign’s outside backs who spend lots of time on overlaps.

Not playing this weekend: Washington Spirit


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