Somehow, the NWSL season is 15 weeks old. That leaves six more weeks before the playoffs. With that in mind it’s time for our team-by-team look at prospects for playing beyond the regular season, in order of current standings:
Seattle Reign FC (8-3-3, 27 pts)
The Reign had a strong week shaking off their worst performance in two years to beat the Thorns twice in five days without conceding a goal. The six points brought them to the top of the table, where they lived for the entirety of 2014. The Red Stars still have a match in hand on them but the Reign have to be feeling good about getting a home playoff match for the second year in a row. That would be a good things since they have still never lost at Memorial Stadium. It’s anyone’s best guess when goalkeeper Hope Solo will play again, but it is also time to start asking if Haley Kopmeyer is at the front of the line for best goalkeeper in NWSL this season.
Chicago Red Stars (7-1-5, 26 pts)
Before the season, the Red Stars said there were no excuses in year three after coming close but missing the postseason the first two years of the league. So far, they have not needed any. Christen Press returned from the World Cup and picked up her scoring binge that began at the end of 2014. Rookie Sofia Huerta picked up the slack while Press was gone. With coach Rory Dames nailing the draft all three years—this season’s contributors are Huerta, Danielle Colaprico and Arin Gilliland—the Red Stars are now the deepest team in NWSL even after Monday’s announcement that Shannon Boxx was retiring from her club career.
Washington Spirit (6-4-3, 21 pts)
This season’s Jekyll and Hyde team has had stretches of being as good as any team in the league mixed in with the occasional empty performance. Saturday night was a good mix of both when they overcome a dodgy first half to work a 1-1 draw with the Red Stars and remain undefeated at the SoccerPlex. Mark Parsons is still figuring out how to best deploy his defensive players. With MVP front-runner Crystal Dunn doing her thing up top, once that back line gets worked out, the Spirit will be extremely difficult to beat.
FC Kansas City (5-5-3, 18 pts)
A week ago, the Blues were at the tail end of what looked like a breakaway playoff pack. After being idle in Week 15 they now find themselves with a single-point cushion over the Dash, who they visit on Wednesday. They only scored once in their last match against the Dash but the return of Lauren Holiday and Heather O’Reilly made their attack look far more dynamic than it did during the World Cup break. Add in their center-back pairing of Becky Sauerbrunn and Amy LePeilbet, and FC Kansas City figures to be just fine. They will be under the gun, though, something they avoided the last two years while opening up a cushion to the playoffs over the summer. They did get one bugaboo off their shoulders, however. Their draw against the Dash was the first time they ever got a result after trailing.
Houston Dash (4-4-5, 17 pts)
The Carli Lloyd subplot in Rochester over the weekend somewhat overshadowed a huge win for the Dash, who can move into a playoff position if they can beat FC Kansas City for the first time on Wednesday. Randy Waldrum successfully steered the team through the rocky waters of the World Cup and for the first time since they started in 2014, it seems like the Dash are strong in goal and all three lines. FC Kansas City has not been a great matchup for them, but they dominated for stretches in their match last week.
Western New York Flash (4-6-3, 15 pts)
This could be a make-or-break week for the Flash. They host the reeling Thorns on Wednesday before heading south to play Sky Blue on Saturday. Defending has been a trouble spot in Western New York this season. The return of Whitney Engen pushed Abby Dahlkemper out to right back, a lineup that was much better in its second go than its first. Still, the Flash have only one point from those games—all at home. No team relies more on its rookies than the Flash do and it can be difficult to make up ground late while fielding a young side.
Sky Blue FC (3-6-5, 14 pts)
Two weeks ago, Sky Blue FC’s struggles to string goals together was a popular talking point. All of a sudden they have one of the most dynamic attacks in the league with six goals in their last two games and a three-match unbeaten streak. More to the point, the insertion of Kelley O’Hara and Samantha Kerr into the lineup has made the entire team better, including Nadia Nadim, who had her best energy of the season against the Breakers. The margin for error is still slim, but Saturday will be their second straight home match against an opponent on the end of a three-in-eighth stretch and there is suddenly a little bit of life at Yurcak Field.
Portland Thorns FC (3-6-4, 13 pts)
The Thorns are officially a mess. They have dropped three straight, all by shutout, to drop into a precarious position in terms of the playoffs. They are 3-6-4 and it rarely seemed like it was going to produce many scoring changes in two games against the Reign. Christine Sinclair is on an island up top and defensively they have been vulnerable to the counter. A quick, cross-country trip to Western New York won’t make things much easier. The talent is there but at the moment it is not adding up to make a winning side.
Boston Breakers (3-8-3, 12 pts)
A weary and outclassed Breakers side got beat down all the way to the bottom of the table on Saturday at Sky Blue. It was their seventh straight match without a win since a 2-0-1 home stand had them at .500 and briefly looking like a playoff team. The defensive cohesion is gone and the midfield play is not good enough to win consistent chances for the forwards. It may soon be time to start thinking about who will be back in 2016.
Week 15 Takeaways
Lloyd gets the job done: Carli Lloyd helped the United States win the World Cup with a sensational hat trick in the opening 16 minutes of the World Cup final. Last week, she helped NWSL with some comments about her former team, the Flash, that turned a rather ordinary match into the biggest talking point of the weekend. And Lloyd did not disappoint, scoring the only goal for the Dash in a 1-0 victory that lifted her side to the brink of a top-four position. Lloyd has both Dash goals since returning to the lineup and may be the factor that turns them into a contender. Meanwhile, she told assembled media that she has not spoken to Flash coach Aaran Lines and “never” plans to do so.
Sky Blue rising again: After the 2014 season finale, Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra said casually that his team had done what it set out to do by peaking at playoff time. The trouble was they had not qualified. Could the same thing happen this season? The return of Kelley O’Hara and the addition of Samantha Kerr have instantly turned Sky Blue into a side that can attack quickly and with variety. But with only six games left they’ll have to keep things tight to navigate through the field. They will also have to prove they can break down teams other than the two who have given up the most in the league.
Press/Dunn trade goals: The Red Stars and Spirit played to a 1-1 draw at the SoccerPlex on Saturday night with Christen Press and Crystal Dunn scoring on either side of halftime. Press now has six goals in five league matches this season, while Dunn leads the league with nine. Unfortunately, not many were able to watch the match in its entirety. For the third time, issues with the live stream rendered portions of the match unavailable to anyone not in attendance.
Writer’s note – full disclosure, I do the color commentary for the Sky Blue FC webcast and am fully cognizant of many of the issues that can interfere with a smooth live stream.
Reserves getting it done
The Red Stars and Spirit were foes on the pitch on Saturday. They were also partners on an NWSL reserve sweep of the W-League and WPSL championships over the weekend. The Spirit beat the Colorado Pride, 2-1 at Desjardins Stadium in Quebec on Sunday. Aedo Munoz scored both goals for the Spirit Reserves including the title winner a minute from full time. The Spirit are coached by Kati Jo Spisak, who played for the Washington Freedom in WPS.
Also Sunday, the Chicago Red Stars Reserves took the WPSL crown by downing SoCal FC 2-1. Mary Luba, who appeared in three matches as an amateur for the Red Stars, opened the scoring in the final. Luba then assisted on the winner to Ashley Handwork. A day earlier, SoCal FC bounced the Boston Breakers Reserves, 3-0.
Here are last week’s attendance numbers:
Boston Breakers (Wednesday) — 3,403 (season high)
Portland Thorns FC (Wednesday) — 21,144 (team and NWSL single match record)
Western New York Flash (Saturday) — 4,110 (season high)
Washington Spirit (Saturday) — 5,100
Sky Blue FC (Saturday) — 2,067
Seattle Reign FC (Sunday) — 6,303 (club record)
CLUB | AVERAGE POST WC | AVERAGE
1. Portland Thorns FC | 14,823 | 21,144
2. Houston Dash | 5,852 | 13,025
3. Chicago Red Stars | 5,097-a | 3,560
4. Washington Spirit | 3,663 | 5,257
5. Seattle Reign FC | 3,621 | 6,041
6. FC Kannsas City | 3,338-b | 3,557
7. Western New York Flash | 2,564 | 3,636
8. Boston Breakers | 2,521 | 2,964
9. Sky Blue FC | 1,653 | 2,541
League Average: 4,751 | 5,869
a-includes one doubleheader with the Chicago Fire (16,017) at Toyota Park; Benedictine average is 2,367
b-includes one match at Sporting Park; Swope average is 2,308
— Shannon Boxx announced Monday that she has retired from NWSL, effective immediately. She will play the victory tour with the United States national team. Boxx is one of three players — with Christie Rampone and Karina LeBlanc — to appear in all nine seasons of women’s professional soccer in the U.S. Boxx was originally drafted into WUSA by the San Diego Spirit. After two seasons, she was traded to the New York Power, where she broke out under coach Tom Sermanni and earned a call-up to the national team. A dozen years later Boxx, now a mother, was a bench player on the 2015 World Cup team. She played in two league finals, winning a 2010 WPS title with FC Gold Pride. She was on the short end in 2009 with the Los Angeles Sol.
— Sky Blue’s 2-0 lead on Saturday was the first time the team led a game by multiple goals since last August 9, when they beat the Dash, 3-1 on a Nadia Nadim hat trick. “I didn’t know what to do,” coach Jim Gabarra deadpanned after the match.
— The Dash signed 20-year-old midfielder Andressa, who plays for Brazil. Andressa will add another dynamic component to a midfield that already includes Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian. Carleigh Williams was waived to clear a roster spot.
— Good time to remind everyone that Sky Blue holds the right to swap 1st round picks with the Thorns. That codicil of the trade that sent Kendall Johnson to Portland appeared to be a moot point until the last few weeks. And now Sky Blue are ahead of the Thorns.
— The Thorns are a mess, as stated above. They have not scored in three games and appear to be out of ideas on the attacking end. Stephanie Catley was their best player Sunday despite being out of position but had to come off near halftime after catching an injury.
— Whatever the streaming issues are in Washington and with the FOX app, NWSL had better get them squared away soon. The league is clearly still riding the high that came with the World Cup triumph for the United States, but fans will not have much patience for a league that cannot get its product out to fans in an efficient, professional manner.
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