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The Lowdown: Which teams are best suited for summer?

Estelle Johnson (24) had not played a minute this season before stepping in to play 90 on Saturday, a sure sign of the Spirit's depth (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Estelle Johnson (24) had not played a minute this season before stepping in to play 90 on Saturday, a sure sign of the Spirit’s depth (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Last week, in a non-Lowdown column, I ranked the 20 NWSL players who have left to join the United States Olympic camp in order of how they will be missed.  This week it’s a rundown of the 10 clubs in order of who is best suited to handle the month without their best talent. List is indicative of combination of team’s overall outlook and comparison between Olympic status and pre/post Olympic status. It is not scientific.

Seattle Reign FC

The easy top choice since the only real loss is Hope Solo, and her backup Haley Kopmeyer long ago established herself as the best second-string keeper in NWSL.  Megan Rapinoe has yet to play so her absence is hardly a loss as it pertains to this season.  And the Reign are adding.  Nahomi Kawasumi, an integral part of the wonderful 2014 Reign club, returned over the weekend and promptly scored twice in the 2-0 win over the Breakers.  Also on the way is Kawasumi’s Japanese teammate Rumi Utsugi.  The Reign are still hanging outside the top four but that could change quickly.

Houston Dash

This one is tough to gage because it remains difficult to fathom them having played their last five games without scoring a goal.  So how much worse can it get with a few players leaving? The midfield will be without Morgan Brian and Andressa who have not seemed to find a rhythm together.  That will allow Amber Brooks to get some consistent playing time as well.  They were built to withstand some of the summer tumult but were not expecting to be in such a precarious position when it started.  Don’t put it past the Dash to make a bit of a run.

Washington Spirit

The deepest team in NWSL showed it on the weekend.  Not only did Estelle Johnson emerge from deep on the bench to help key a defensive shutout, Francisca Ordega came off the bench—even with Crystal Dunn not there—to score a pivotal goal.  The Spirit still feel like a work in progress but if they don’t get there it doesn’t appear that depth issues spawned by the Olympics will be the reason.

{GORDON: Thoughts from Spirit’s 2-0 win over FC Kansas City}

Western New York Flash

The Flash looked good without Sam Mewis and Jaelene Hinkle but further troubles are around the bend.  Alanna Kennedy dropped into central defense with Abby Erceg as the holding midfielder in last Friday’s 2-0 win over the Red Stars, but both of those players are also Olympic bound.  That leaves a hole in central defense next to Abby Dahlkemper with Hinkle’s backup out wide to the left.  Paul Riley is known as one of the league’s more resourceful coaches and he will have to produce a solution through the spine of the team to survive the next few weeks.

There are no such issues up top though.  Lianne Sanderson slipped in seamlessly and should get better as she gets to know her new teammates.  And the Makenzy Doniak-Jessica McDonald-Lynn Williams trio is quickly blossoming into an unstoppable force up top.  The attacking part of this club should be able to carry the day into October.

Chicago Red Stars

Last summer the Red Stars were perhaps the best team in the league during the extended Olympic break but having played two matches this season without the trio of Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston, and Christen Press, there could be cause for concern.  The team plays slower without Johnston, and while Sofia Huerta got hot and carried the team from a scoring perspective last season, there are few signs of that happening again.

(photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

(photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

FC Kansas City

The champs are not far from capitulation for the season and losing Becky Sauerbrunn and Heather O’Reilly will hardly help.  But in the end what ails the Blues are the pieces they were never able to replace following an offseason of massive—and mostly involuntary—roster overhaul.

{NWSL WEEK IN REVIEW: Curren on aggressive attackers and more}

Sky Blue FC

It’s only two players, but they are two very good players. Kelley O’Hara might be the league’s most versatile player with an ability to impact matches from either outside back spot or a multitude of attacking positions. And Sam Kerr—though she has played limited minutes while recovering from foot surgery—is one of the top strikers in the world. Both will be sorely missed at a time when Sky Blue dearly needs points. But if they don’t make it will likely have more to do with them being a year away than suffering through player absences.

Boston Breakers

The only player they lose is Whitney Engen, but does it matter? With or without their best defender the Breakers are flirting with joining the 2002 New York Power (WUSA) and 2011 Atlanta Beat (WPS) as the worst professional women’s soccer seasons on record.

Portland Thorns FC

The Thorns were pummeled on all three lines and it gets worse with Amandine Henry now en route to join France but in two games so far without their U.S. players, Mark Parsons’s unbeaten side eked out a scoreless draw against the Reign and a come-from-behind victory over Sky Blue.  It was always clear the Thorns had put together a talented roster but their tenacity has been impressive and it clearly filters down to the 20th woman on the roster plus the amateurs.

Celeste Boureille has been a find in back, Kat Williamson could soon be back to add more stability to the rearguard, and the preseason trade for Mallory Weber is paying dividends.  The other good news in Portland is that sitting on 26 points through 12 games has the Thorns nearly at the threshold for playoff qualification so even if depth issues catch up to them it is likely they accrued enough equity already to stay in the top four.

Orlando Pride

Putting Ashlyn Harris as the player that will be missed most was an easy choice after her backup Aubrey Bledsoe broke a bone in her leg during training.  But the issues for the Pride will run far deeper.  Their outside backs—Stephanie Catley and Josee Belanger—are both at the Olympics.  So are Laura Alleway and Monica who in any given week are a center back and defensive midfielder.  That leaves Toni Pressley as the anchor in the middle of what will suddenly be a very inexperienced back line.

None of that takes into account the absence of Alex Morgan up top.  That not only takes away the top scoring threat but will allow opposing defenses to key in on Jasmyne Spencer.  The Pride have been organized and impressive in their first season but the Olympic absences will be next to impossible to overcome.

Attendance

Here are the attendance numbers for NWSL Week 11 plus season totals with comparisons to the same number of home dates in 2015.

FRIDAY
Western New York Flash – 3,114

SATURDAY
Washington Spirit – 3,036
Seattle Reign FC – 4,327
Portland Thorns FC – 14,287

WEEK 11 TOTAL: 24,764
WEEK 11 AVERAGE: 6,191

TEAM AVERAGES AND COMPARISONS

1. Portland Thorns FC – 16,246 (5 games)
2015 average: 15,639
2015 thru 5 games: 14,079

2. Orlando Pride — 10,694 (5 games)

3. Houston Dash – 5,846 (4 games)
2015 average: 6,413
2015 thru 4 games: 4,647

4. Seattle Reign FC – 4,294 (6 games)
2015 average: 4,060
2015 thru 6 games: 3,174

5. Washington Spirit – 3,948 (6 games)
2015 average: 4,087
2015 thru 6 games – 3,423

6. FC Kansas City – 3,781 (6 games)
2015 average: 3,091
2015 thru 6 games: 3,338

7. Boston Breakers – 3,672 (5 games)
2015 average: 2,863
2015 thru 5 games: 2,445

8. Western New York Flash – 3,481 (7 games)
2015 average: 2,860
2015 thru 7 games: 2,564

9. Chicago Red Stars – 2,948 (5 games)
2015 average: 4,210
2015 thru 5 games: 5,097 (includes doubleheader with Fire with announced attendance of 16,017)

10. Sky Blue FC – 1,879 (5 games)
2015 average: 2,189
2015 thru 5 games: 1,298

Free Kicks

Direct

-The Orlando Pride should be introducing a new goalkeeper shortly to help ease the loss of Ashlyn Harris to the Olympics and Aubrey Bledsoe to a broken leg. That keeper will not be DiDi Haracic, current Spirit reserve who is currently the backup to Kesley Wys in the absence of Stephanie Labbe. There had been Internet scuttlebutt Tuesday that Haracic would be joining the Pride.

{MORE: History of USWNT matches on or around the 4th of July}

-Sky Blue FC says Tasha Kai is day to day after being injured in Saturday night’s loss to the Thorns. However goalkeeper Caroline Stanley could miss a few weeks. Details are forthcoming.

-We’ll spare Breakers fans another update about the club’s away futility. But not the fact they are now 0-9-1 against the Reign. The only other head-to-head among the original eight clubs where both teams has not won is the Red Stars’ 3-0-6 edge on Sky Blue.

-The answer to last week’s trivia was Megan Brigman. She was the player who subbed in for Lauren Barnes on August 6, 2014. Thanks to all the folks who tweeted me the answer and congratulations to @johnstons08 for capitalizing on my free ticket offer.

Indirect

-I spent much of the holiday weekend away from soccer. Hence I used the “abstain” button on the Player of the Week ballot.

-Had an interesting conversation this week about certain teams doing a better job at developing reserve players and then sometimes losing them to other clubs who need them. There is no question a reserve player should be able to go elsewhere for a full contract. But is it time for a system of compensation to be discussed?

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