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Week 8 Preview: Thorns, Red Stars to clash in Windy City

The Thorns will have their regular lineup back in order after losing six starters to international duty two weeks ago. (photo copyright EriMacPhoto for The Equalizer)

The Thorns will have their regular lineup back in order after losing six starters to international duty two weeks ago. (photo copyright EriMacPhoto for The Equalizer)

After a week without the U.S. internationals that included a rain out and a dark week for the FIFA window, NWSL is back in full swing for Week 8 with all 10 teams back in action. Among the games, a top of the table battle in Chicago, and two matchups between surprise teams. Neither the Flash nor Pride were expected to be battling for the top spot, and few thought the Reign and Dash would be nearing the desperation zone so early in the campaign. Here is a look:


Washington Spirit (4-1-1) at Boston Breakers (1-6-0)
7pm EDT, Jordan Field
All-Time Series: Breakers lead, 4-2-4
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What to watch for: Seven games into the Matt Beard era and the Breakers have been blanked six times and have still yet to produce a goal from open play. Things won’t get any easier against the Spirit who shut them out on opening day and have only conceded in two of their six games. The absence of Kristie Mewis to a sprained ankle after 39 straight appearances dating to 2014 will require Beard to come up with a new plan at attacking central midfield. It could open the door for Eunice Beckmann to make her first start as a Breaker. The Spirit defense finally cracked when they gave up four to the Thorns and they have had three weeks without a match since then after their trip to Houston ended with a rained out match. Cheyna Williams is not on the injury report indicating she is recovered from the sprained ankle suffered in Portland.


Orlando Pride (4-3-0) at Western New York Flash (4-3-0)
7:00 pm EDT, Rhinos Stadium
All-Time Series: Pride lead, 1-0-0
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What to watch for: After a slow start to the season the Flash busted out with nine goals in the two games prior to the bye week including four against the Breakers without midfield engine Sam Mewis. No one has yet been able to pour it on what has been a very good Pride defense this season but the return of Mewis should give the Flash the edge in midfield. It could be another different look in back for the Flash who had newly acquired keeper Katelyn Rowland at training Friday and continue to be without Sabrina D’Angelo. When the U.S. players were called away two weeks ago, few were missed more than Alex Morgan who returns and will add bite to the Pride attack.

FC Kansas City (1-4-2) at Sky Blue FC (2-3-2)
7:00 pm EDT, Yurcak Field
All-Time Series: Kansas City lead, 4-2-2
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What to watch for: The champs finally got their first win of the season against the Pride and now pay a visit to a field they have never lost on. The defense and Nicole Barnhart pitched a shutout in the win but the personnel will change with the return of Becky Sauerbrunn. So will Brittany Taylor push out to the right again or will the Blues stick with rookies at both fullback spots and push Yael Averbuch back into midfield? Sky Blue has been buoyed by the arrival of rookie Leah Galton who has a goal and assist in less than 90 total minutes off the bench. Will Galton’s home debut also be her first professional start? Meanwhile Sam Kerr, who has not played yet this season after foot surgery, has been upgraded to questionable for the first time.


Portland Thorns FC (3-0-4) at Chicago Red Stars (4-1-2)
6:00 pm EDT, Toyota Park
All-Time Series: Thorns lead, 3-1-5
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What to watch for: They might not be 1-2 in the table when the match kicks off but either team will claim first place with a victory. The Red Stars are two weeks removed from Rory Dames’s scathing comments about their performance in a 1-1 draw against Sky Blue and will be Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston, and Christen Press back. But the Thorns will get six players back from international duty without whom they fought and scraped to a scoreless draw against the Reign. They won’t have Amandine Henry quite yet though so the deeper lineup questions do not have to answered this weekend. Tobin Heath has been the league’s best player so far and the Red Stars are outstanding defending on the outside. The Red Stars’ ability to contain Heath could be the fulcrum that this one pivots on.

Houston Dash (2-3-1) at Seattle Reign FC (2-3-2)
7:00 pm, Memorial Stadium
All-Time Series: Reign lead, 5-0-0
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What to watch for: One of the key games in the early part of the season as the losing side between these two playoff hopefuls will have quite a hole to dig out of the rest of the way. The Reign’s four-match winless streak is their first such stretch greater than two games since 2013. On the flipside the Dash have scored only three times in five matches since opening day which prompted Randy Waldrum to question the desire of his strikers after a home loss to Orlando. One of them, Janine Beckie, hit the game-winner for Canada on Tuesday so that could build her confidence. The Reign are also struggling in the attack but Jess Fishlock should be that much sharper with more training in her since returning from a broken leg. One glaring star is the Reign’s 5-0-0 record against the Dash by an aggregate score of 15-3.

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