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Boston Breakers

NWSL Week 14 preview: FCKC after record

Nicole Barnhart has kept a clean sheet in her last six starts and FC Kansas City have won a league record equaling six straight. (Copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Boston Breakers (3-11-2) at Houston Dash (4-10-1)
BBVA Compass Stadium
Friday, 9 pm EDT
Series:  Dash lead, 1-0-0

For the second time in four weeks the Breakers have a chance to play themselves off the bottom of the table.  They were held to a 1-1 draw June 22 at Sky Blue who have since jumped the Dash, leaving this game as a battle for 8th place.  The Breakers are 0-2-2 more than halfway through their 7-match road trip and that includes a near-miss, 3-2 loss in Seattle last Sunday.  The Dash had a tough Week 13.  Their trip to New Jersey amounted to little more than playing softball while they waited out a weather delay that postponed the game, then returned home to get drubbed, 4-1 by the Flash.

What to watch for:  Central defense could be a problem for both sides.  Julie King won’t play for the Breakers and Osinachi Ohale looked slowed in her return from injury against Western New York.  The Dash are more apt to pressure high up the field, something the Breakers will have to overcome in order to get enough possession to exploit things at the other end.  Also of note, Alyssa Naeher is playing far better than her and the Breakers’ numbers suggest.

Washington Spirit (7-7-2) at Western New York Flash (7-8-2)
Sahlen’s Stadium
Saturday, 7 pm EDT
Series:  Flash lead, 4-1-1 (1-1-0 in 2014)

Yet another crucial match between teams bunched together right on the playoff line.  And both teams have significant questions to answer.  The Flash have now alternated wins and losses over their last eight and are again looking to return to .500.  The Spirit come in on 10 days rest following the wild, 3-3 draw against the Breakers.  Last time the played the Spirit prevailed 3-2 on May 17 in Washington.  That started a five-match winless streak for the Spirit and a five-match winless run for the Flash.  Will this one have a similar impact with the sides locked in a playoff tussle? Anyone who does not win could wake up Monday on the outside looking in.

What to watch for:  Carli Lloyd is playing some magnificent soccer and will be the one to watch in midfield for the Flash.  If the Spirit can keep Lloyd away from their penalty area they will have a better chance at keeping the Flash off the board and finding Jodie Taylor on counter attacks. Abby Wambach is again out for the Flash.

Seattle Reign FC (13-0-3) at Chicago Red Stars (6-6-4)
Benedictine University Sports Complex
Saturday, 8 pm EDT
Series:  Reign lead, 3-1-1 (1-0-0 in 2014)

The first meeting had something of a lopsided final score, but the goals came in the 2nd half after the teams poked and prodded each other in their efforts to get the better of each other over the first 45 minutes.  Ultimately the Reign prevailed but the match had to have left the Red Stars with a touch of optimism.  A blow to optimism is their 0-4-3 mark since they ripped off five straight to finish off May.  The addition of Christen Press has yielded some more dangerous play but they still have a habit of chipping the ball over the top, even at the end of sequences when they knock it around the midfield.  The Reign figure to lose at some point, especially with their habit of allowing the first goal, but with 16 games in a row undefeated it is time to at least start whispering about finishing off the season that way.  They’ll be without Megan Rapinoe again, ruled out due to hamstring tightness.

What to watch for:  The Reign claim they sometimes don’t get into a match until they fall behind.  The Red Stars are sound enough defensively to throttle the Reign’s midfield if they can jump ahead.  Press has the ability to run onto long balls or to be a target player in a deliberate buildup.  If the Red Stars can find the right balance there they have a chance to get back in the win column.

FC Kansas City (10-4-3) at Portland Thorns FC (6-6-4)
Providence Park
Sunday, 7 pm EDT
Series:  Kansas City lead, 3-2-1 (1-1-0 in 2014 plus Thorns, 1-0-0 in playoffs)

If FC Kansas City are going to set the league standard by winning for the eighth consecutive time they will have to do it without Lauren Holiday.  The MVP was hospitalized in New Jersey following the win over Sky Blue FC and has been ruled out of this one with what the team is calling an illness.  Even without Holiday, the Blues are rolling, playing sublime possession soccer and rock solid defense.  The Thorns meanwhile are bleeding points.  They had eyes for six in a home-and-home against the Red Stars but allowed three goals inside the final quarter hour between the two matches and drew them both.  Similar to this time last year there appear to be chemistry issues in Portland.

What to watch for:  With Holiday out it will be interesting to see if FC Kansas City play how they did at Sky Blue or if they put the third midfielder back in.  With her out the Thorns will be able to direct more attention on Erika Tymrak, who has a knack for dribbling in tight spaces but could be lacking midfield support without her pal Holiday.  In goal, Nicole Barnhart has posted six consecutive clean sheets and 585 straight shutout minutes.

Not playing this weekend:   Sky Blue FC


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