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Week 7 Preview: NWSL top five face bottom five

The USWNT's loss is Sky Blue FC's gain.  Christie Rampone should be available for her club team this weekend.

The USWNT’s loss is Sky Blue FC’s gain. Christie Rampone should be available for her club team this weekend.

The NWSL season is 30% in the books and already there is only one team closer than five points from the playoff zone. And as luck would have it, the five top teams square off against the five bottom teams this weekend. That could leave the table stretched out heading to the FIFA window, or the accordian could go the other way and tighten things up. However it happens, it will go down without the 21 NWSL players called into Jill Ellis’s national team camp.

Here is a closer look:

Friday

Boston Breakers (1-5-0) at Western New York Flash (3-3-0)
7pm EDT, Sahlen’s Stadium
All-Time Series: Flash lead, 5-2-2
Watch on YouTube

What to watch for: Having finally scored a goal and entered the win column for 2016 the Breakers will now set out to snap another heinous skid. They have not won an away match since July 25, 2014. In 14 tries since they have two draws and a dozen losses. The good news? That last away win nearly two years ago was at Western New York. The Flash though have seen 100% roster turnover since 2014 and their current group put on its best performance so far last weekend, a 5-2 win over Sky Blue. They’ll have to get by this week without Sam Mewis and Jaelene Hinkle (USWNT camp) and Sabrina D’Angelo (left wrist fracture.) The injury at keeper will thrust national championship winning rookie Britt Eckerstrom center stage for her pro debut. The Breakers only loss this week is Whitney Engen, who scored their only goal and was strong in central defense last week.

Washington Spirit (4-1-1) at Houston Dash (2-3-1)
8:30 pm EDT, BBVA Compass Stadium
All-Time Series: Spirit lead, 5-1-1
Watch on YouTube

What to watch for: It’s recovery mode for both teams. The Dash have scored only three goals in their last five matches, none in the last two, prompting coach Randy Waldrum to openly call out his group of forwards. Carli Lloyd has been out injured over that stretch and this week Morgan Brian goes away too. Brian has struggled though since taking a hamstring injury last month and there is some question as to whether the Dash midfield is better off without her on the field. The Spirit saw their unbeaten streak crash in spectacular fashion when they conceded three first half goals in Portland, losing 4-1. This week they will have to replace two strikers—Crystal Dunn is with the U.S. and Cheyna Williams sprained her ankle last week—and a right back (Ali Krieger, USWNT.) There should be plenty of space in midfield in this one and it could be decided by which team plays its strikers into more dangerous positions.

Saturday

Orlando Pride (4-2-0) at FC Kansas City (2-4-0)
8:30 pm EDT, Swope Soccer Village
All-Time Series: first meeting
Watch on YouTube

What to watch for: The undoing of FC Kansas City may have been completed last week in a 1-0 loss to Boston that left them winless in a club-record six matches and in last place in the league. The main issue has been a complete inability to be dangerous in the attack. Breaking down the Pride backline will be no easy task. They withstood the loss of Laura Alleway (out again this week) last weekend to post a third consecutive shutout. The wild card is backup keeper Aubrey Bledsoe, set to make her first NWSL start in place of national team bound Ashlyn Harris. This one has the look of an affair that could get stalled out in midfield much of the evening which means goals figure to be at a premium.

Sunday

Seattle Reign FC (2-3-1) at Portland Thorns FC (3-0-3)
7pm EDT, Providence Park
All-Time Series: Thorns lead, 5-4-1
Watch on YouTube

What to watch for: The second of four Cascadia rivalry matches of the season will leave a bit to be desired in the way of personnel. The Thorns will try to carry their unbeaten start to the season to seven games without six of the 11 players that started last week in Washington. Adrianna Franch, Emily Sonnett, Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long, Lindsey Horan, and Tobin Heath will all be in with the U.S. And Franch’s backup Michelle Betos is injured leaving untested Emily Kruger as the likely starter. The Reign, mired in an early-season slump, will be without Hope Solo but should have Jess Fishlock available after she played 32 minutes in a Thursday friendly against Arsenal.

Sky Blue FC (2-3-1) at Chicago Red Stars (4-1-1)
7pm, Toyota Park
All-Time Series: Red Stars lead, 3-0-5
Watch on YouTube

What to watch for: One of two original head-to-heads in which both teams have not won (Reign against Breakers). The Red Stars come in on fire having conceded only one goal in the last five matches and only a scoreless draw standing between them and a five-match winning streak. Alyssa Naeher and Julie Johnston will be with the US this weekend, but the club already has already posted two clean sheets with rookie Katie Naughton starting in place of Johnston and backup goalkeeper Michele Dalton led the league in goals against average last season. Sky Blue will be trying to recover from being massacred in Western New York last week and will have to do so without Kelley O’Hara. But rookie Leah Galton looked tremendous in her debut and could find her way into the starting XI for this one.

note: streams are subject to change up to the last minute; please consult nwslsoccer.com for the most up-to-date information

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