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NWSL Week 15 preview: Playoffs in sight for Reign

Jessica Fishlock, Seattle Reign FC

Boston Breakers (3-12-2) at Portland Thorns FC (7-6-5)
Providence Park
Sunday, 5 pm EDT (ESPN2)
Series:  Breakers lead, 3-1-0 (1-0-0 in 2014)

Last time they played, the Breakers benched several starting players and pulled a 4-1 stunner, a result the Thorns have yet to fully recover from.  The Breakers also took two of three from the Thorns a year ago so it’s possible it’s one of those matchups that favors the inferior side.  This one will play out in front of an ESPN2 audience as the league’s relationship with ESPN will come to fruition with the first of nine games on ESPN2 and ESPN3.  Injuries will be a factor.  Julie King is still out for the Breakers while Tobin Heath is doubtful and Sinead Farrelly questionable for the Thorns.  This is the sixth straight away match for the Breakers who are 0-3-2 so far.

What to watch for:  The Thorns are a bit of a mess defensively, the biggest culprit in having conceded six points in three games to the Red Stars after leading them all deep in the 2nd half.  If the Breakers go with the low pressure style they have employed in other similar matches, the Thorns will have to be deliberate in the way they move the ball off their back line and into midfield.  They have been vulnerable to the counter of late and a low pressure set up by the Breakers could exploit that.

Washington Spirit (8-7-3) at Sky Blue FC (3-7-7)
Yurcak Field
Sunday, 6 pm EDT
Series:  Sky Blue lead, 3-0-2 (0-0-1 in 2014)

In a season of crazy scheduling this might be the craziest.  Sky Blue are playing at home on two full weeks of rest while the Spirit were in Houston three days earlier.  The Spirit are also banged up with Tori Huster (upgraded to questionable), Lisa De Vanna (probable) and Crystal Dunn (probable) all on the injury report for the match.  It is the start of the final quarter of the season for the Spirit and they’re right where they want to be—contending for a playoff berth—a season after propping up the league.  A Sky Blue win will clinch a playoff berth for the Reign.

What to watch for:  Sky Blue’s new signing Nadia Nadim is a good bet to make her first start for the club.  She played the 2nd half against Kansas City and showed some good energy in a game that was out of hand in the opening half hour.  The Spirit back line is in some flux from a personnel standpoint so they’ll have to be on their toes to deal with a player they are not likely familiar with.

Chicago Red Stars (7-6-5) at Seattle Reign FC (13-1-3)
Memorial Stadium
Sunday, 7 pm EDT
Series:  Reign lead, 3-2-1 (1-1-0 in 2014)

The Red Stars are undefeated in their five-game, all-Cascadia stretch, which ends here in Seattle.  The Red Stars handed the Reign their first loss last weekend in Chicago after 16 straight unbeaten, and then drew the Thorns midweek.  While that was happening the Reign were resting and getting ready for the return match.  The Reign have said they tend to get into matches after conceding a goal so maybe they’ll get back to playing well having finally lost a match.  A win here and they’re officially in the playoffs.  It can also happen in the Spirit lose or if both games end in draws.

What to watch for:  The Red Stars have a clear game plan now.  They’ll be pressuring balls in midfield and looking to make quick work of moving it ahead of Christen Press and Jen Hoy.  Press and Hoy have been spectacular at times, but have also lacked consistency.  That said their style has gotten the better of the Reign’s quick pass/counter style for a majority of the two matches they have played this season.  The Reign will need better off-the-ball support runs to turn the tables.

Not playing this weekend:  Houston Dash (FC Kansas City and Western New York Flash played Friday night)


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