Portland Thorns FC (7-6-4) at Chicago Red Stars (7-6-4)
Benedictine University Sports Complex
Thursday, 8 pm EDT
Series: tied, 1-2-3 (0-0-2 in 2014)
These two will play for the third time in less than two weeks and there will be critical points on the line. The Thorns currently lead the Red Stars on goal difference for the coveted 4th spot on the table. It could have been a whole lot different considering they had 2-0 and 1-0 leads late in both recent matches only to settle for draws both times. Both teams come off huge highs. The Thorns put up a league-record 7 goals against FC Kansas City on Sunday, one day after the Red Stars became the first team to beat the Reign this season. If either team wins it will also clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker over the other.
What to watch for: Last weekend against Kansas City the Thorns midfield was firing on all cylinders. Amber Brooks was covering the defensive end and Allie Long was freed up to do her attacking. But the Red Stars challenge as many balls in midfield as any team in NWSL and they will be looking to use that defensive prowess to set up chances for Christen Press. The match figures to hinge on how well the Thorns can maintain possession through midfield. If they do they’ll be looking for Alex Morgan who has proclaimed herself fine after an injury scare.
Washington Spirit (8-7-2) at Houston Dash (5-10-1)
BBVA Compass Stadium
Thursday, 9 pm EDT
Series: Spirit lead, 2-0-0
The Spirit handed the Dash two of their toughest losses of the season and will be looking for a clean sweep of the season series as they try to keep the pace in the playoff race. A win will move them within four points of FC Kansas City for 2nd place, but a loss will make things ever more cramped at the line of demarcation for a playoff spot. To turn the tables the Dash will have to survive without their most energetic player, Ella Masar, who suffered a concussion in a dustup with Courtney Jones last week. The Spirit are still very much a work in progress roster wise as they hit the home stretch trying to integrate a bunch of new parts.
What to watch for: Kealia Ohai has quietly become one of the most difficult forwards to defend in NWSL. As she showed last out against the Breakers she can finish from long range in tight spaces, and she can use her explosive speed to get behind defenses and create danger that way. She is also not averse to collecting the ball in midfield. If the Spirit can contain Ohai the Dash have little else to trouble them over the course of 90 minutes.
FC Kansas City (10-5-3) at Western New York Flash (7-9-2)
Friday, 7:30 pm EDT
Series: Flash lead, 2-1-1 (1-1-0 in 2014)
The Flash are regrouping yet again, this time in the wake of losing Lydia Williams for the season with a torn ACL. With two keepers on the shelf—Williams was originally signed to replace Adrianna Franchh—they will turn to rookie Kelsey Wys to try and help them back to their familiar position of being a playoff club. They will take the field for this one at least three points out of the final playoff spot and will leave this one continuing to give games in hand to the teams they are chasing. Until their most recent 1-0 loss they had handled Kansas City pretty well. It’s not a must win for the Flash, but it’s getting there. Lauren Holiday is not on the injury report, raising hope she will play for the Blues. Abby Wambach is out for the Flash.
What to watch for: The Blues were cooking with seven straight wins—six of them shutouts—before getting hammered 7-1 in Portland. Will this be a comeback performance or was it the first chink in what has been some very sturdy armor since late May? It is difficult to judge without Holiday, who can tear up any midfield when she combines with Erika Tymrak. If FCKC gets into their possession game it could make for a long night for the Flash. But if Carli Lloyd is able to take control of the midfield that Kansas City will have to respond defensively.
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