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The Lowdown: NWSL kicks off fourth preseason

(Photo: Orlando Pride)

Coach Tom Sermanni instructs players on the Orlando Pride’s first day of preseason. (Photo: Orlando Pride)

The NWSL keeps knocking down barriers. Another one fell Monday with the opening of the league’s fourth preseason. Here is a look inside each team’s first day of camp plus preseason schedules for each.

[MORE: 2016 NWSL Preseason Rosters]

Boston Breakers

A new era in Breakers soccer got underway when Matt Beard ran his first training session with the club on Monday. The Breakers are the only NWSL charter member yet to participate in a postseason match.

Preseason schedule

-March 20 vs Northeastern
-March 25 vs Florida State University (in Jacksonville)
-March 30 vs Florida Elite Soccer Academy U16/17 boys (in Jacksonvile)
-April 3 vs Boston College
-April 3 vs University of Connecticut
-April 8 vs Boston College

Random observation: The Breakers brought in Libby Stout from Liverpool and drafted Abby Smith from Texas and are bringing back last year’s backup Jami Kranich, giving them three keepers who look to be good enough to land on NWSL rosters. Kranich figures to be the odd woman out and with several teams looking to secure goalkeeping depth it might be difficult for the Breakers to keep all three in the mix.

Chicago Red Stars

Alyssa Naeher is headed to the Chicago Red Stars as part of a trade which will send Whitney Engen to the Boston Breakers. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

The Chicago Red Stars upgraded in goal this offseason by acquiring Alyssa Naeher. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

The Red Stars made their breakthrough last season, turning potential into success by finishing second in the league and hosting a semifinal. Over the offseason they upgraded in goal by acquiring 2014 Goalkeeper of the Year, Alyssa Naeher and for the first time will enter a season among the favorites to be the last team standing.

Preseason schedule

-March 18 vs Illinois State University (closed to public)
-April 3 vs Northwestern
-April 6 vs Notre Dame

Random observation: Rachel Quon, Taryn Hemmings, Abby Erceg, and Lori Chalupny are all players that started more than half of the matches last season and are either retired or playing elsewhere in 2016. The turnover has left some parts of the club reinforced but there could be some holes in the midfield. Danielle Colaprico and Vanessa DiBernardo will be called on to produce big seasons and the Red Stars may need contributions from some lesser known midfielders.

FC Kansas City

The Blues have won the last two NWSL Championships but changes are abound ahead of the new campaign. The club pulled a few rabbits out of the hat but there are many questions to be answered in Kansas City.

Preseason schedule

-March 20 vs University of Missouri
-March 21 vs University of Missouri
-March 26 vs University of Kansas
-April 3 vs University of Nebraska
-April 9 vs University of Missouri Kansas City
-April 9 vs University of Minnesota

Random observation: The wild card on this team is Amanda Frisbie. Injured during her rookie season in Seattle and overlooked last year in Western New York, the former 1st round pick could be utilized as something of a jack-of-all-trades band-aid able to fill in around the pitch. In a season of transition, Frisbie could be a key player if she can recapture some of the versatility that made her a star at the University of Portland.

Houston Dash

The Dash jumped from the cellar to the middle of the pack in their second season and enter 2016 with eyes on joining the playoff field for the first time. A few question marks remain but the Dash keep getting better and there is one more attacking player on the way.

Preseason Schedule

-March 19 vs Baylor
-March 27 vs Oregon State University (in Portland)
-March 30 vs Seattle Reign FC (in Portland)
-April 2 vs Portland Thorns FC (in Portland)
-April 9 vs Texas A&M

Random observation: Forward Allie Bailey is back as a trialist after appearing in seven matches and scoring a goal as an amateur player in 2015. Bailey showed great energy in her limited opportunities in 2015. It could get crowded up top with rookies Janine Beckie and Rachel Daly plus Kealia Ohai and Chioma Ubogagu, but don’t put it past Bailey to land on someone’s roster at some point this season.

Orlando Pride

The Pride took another step toward becoming a reality on Monday by opening preseason for the first time. The club already has what appears to be a robust fan base and some star power in the form of Alex Morgan and local product Ashlyn Harris. Now it will be up to Tom Sermanni to turn potential into good soccer.

Preseason schedule

-March 19 vs Eastern Florida State College
-March 22 vs University of Florida (closed to public)
-March 30 vs University of South Florida (closed to public)
-April 2 vs Florida State University (closed to public)

Random observation: Social media was filled with photos and anecdotes about Pride players hanging out in Orlando ahead of the opening of preseason. It still takes good players and tactics to be a successful club, but especially for an expansion side, having the players start to gel off the field early could make for a quicker evolution on it.

Portland Thorns FC

The Thorns missed the playoffs for the first time last season and operated at breakneck pace through the off season to try and turn things around. New coach Mark Parsons will be charged with fitting the new pieces together to form a puzzle that can get the Thorns back to the top of the league.

Preseason schedule

-March 27 vs Seattle Reign FC
-March 30 vs Oregon State University
-April 2 vs Houston Dash

Random observation: The Thorns are loaded with talent and to top it off Christine Sinclair has looked excellent for Canada this year. But which of their talented players will sit, especially when Amandine Henry finally arrives in town? If Parsons can get everyone’s roles sorted out the Thorns are among the teams to beat. But he might find the task a delicate balancing act.

Seattle Reign FC

The Reign dominated the regular season the last two years but fell short in the final to Kansas City both times. Much of the team remains intact as they look toward a third straight Shield and elusive NWSL Championship.

Preseason schedule

-March 27 vs Portland Thorns FC (in Portland)
-March 30 vs Houston Dash (in Portland)
-April 2 vs Oregon State University (in Portland)
-April 9 vs University of Washington

Random observation: For the first time the Reign have a chance to get younger as well as better. No. 4 pick Carson Pickett will be a candidate to full the left back spot vacated by the retirement of Steph Cox and Havana Solaun has recovered from her broken ankle and played for the U-23 national team that won the Istria Cup earlier this year.

Sky Blue FC

Christy Holly is moving up from his assistant role to be the new head coach and is tasked with returning Sky Blue to the playoffs after a two-year absence. The club moved up on draft day to grab Hermann Trophy winner Raquel Rodriguez who could turn out to be the most important rookie in the league this season.

Preseason schedule

-March 20 vs St John’s University
-March 26 vs University of North Carolina

Random observation: Kim DeCesare will get very little attention this preseason which makes sense for a 25-year old who played less than 400 minutes last season. But if she can stay healthy DeCesare could be a vital cog in Sky Blue’s team. She uses her height well and can be a bench contributor on either end of the pitch and either end of the scoreline.

Washington Spirit

After two straight fourth-place finishes followed by semifinal losses in Seattle the Spirit are poised to take the next step. There was minimal roster turnover for new coach Jim Gabarra to deal with and last year’s exceptional crop of rookies will enter 2016 with experience. The only downside for the Spirit is that Crystal Dunn won’t be getting cut from the national team this year so they’ll have to manage for stretches without her.

Preseason schedule

-March 19 vs University of Virginia
-March 26 vs Penn State
-April 2 vs University of North Carolina
-April 9 vs Duke

Random observation: If the combination of Steph Labbe and Kelsey Wys holds up in goal and the right side of the defense is as good or better than last year the Spirit are going to be very difficult to beat. They’re not getting much attention but expect them to be quite good.

Western New York Flash

These are interesting times for the Flash. A fixture in finals for a half decade, the Flash now have two straight seasons sitting out the playoffs and 100% roster turnover from just two years ago. But they made a few shrewd moves this winter and brought in Paul Riley to shake things up from the coach’s office.

Preseason schedule

-March 19 vs West Virginia
-April 2 vs Penn State

Random observation: Abby Dahlkemper’s impending move to center back should be a big boost for the entire club. The second-year player should be a natural fit there and will allow Riley to insert more speed in the fullback positions to better utilize the club’s greatest strength. Look for the Flash to be the league’s sleeper team this season.

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