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Week 6 Preview: The Debut of Pugh

Marta scored a second-half equalizer to help the Orlando Pride earn a point on the road in Seattle.

Will the Pride continue good form, or will Seattle make them pay for a slip? Can Houston find its game? How does Mallory Pugh fit into Washington? Look for answers to these questions and more in NWSL Week 6.


The Orlando Pride is in desperate need of a result, but will be Marta be enough against the Courage? (photo copyright Lewis Gettier)

Look for Marta to test Seattle’s defense from all sides. (photo copyright Lewis Gettier)

Orlando Pride (1-2-2) at Seattle Reign FC (2-1-2)

Sunday, 9:30 p.m. EDT, Memorial Stadium
All-time series: tied, 1-1-0
In Seattle: Reign, 1-0-0
Last meeting: July 23, 2016; 5-2 Seattle

Five games in, and Seattle already has two blowouts to its name. While Washington held strong for the first hour or so of the game, when they did lapse defensively, the Reign were all over them, relentless in their punishment. Nahomi Kawasumi had one of the best individual games in the history of the NWSL, and the Reign didn’t skip a beat without Merritt Mathias, serving the first game of her suspension. Look for them to bring a high press again, taking advantage of their lightning quick transition game. They’ve proven they can deliver a pounding on poorly organized teams, so the real question is, which Pride shows up?

Orlando finally got the monkey off its back by earning their first win of the season last week against none other than formerly undefeated North Carolina. They were adept in stretching the Courage’s three-back, which could bode well for them if Laura Harvey continues in that formation. However, they need to get the ball to Marta more. Defensively, they want more from Alanna Kennedy, and they may want to stick with Dani Weatherholt at defensive mid even if Monica is recovered, as her physicality will be key in slowing down the Reign. One victory does not a winning team make just yet, and if the Pride slip back into old form, this game could be over before it starts.


Rachel Corsie

The Scottish defender quietly put together a very solid game last week, though overshadowed by her teammates’ offensive prowess. As Orlando finds its form, players like Marta, Jamia Fields, and Camila are beginning to trouble defenses, so Corsie needs a repeat performance.

Ali Krieger

Once she returned to right back, Krieger has been one of the Pride’s best players. Last week she worked hard defending Lynn Williams while also rampaging up and down the flank, burning past Sam Witteman to deliver the assist that led to the Orlando’s first goal. Her offensive contributions will be valuable for further Pride success, but first, she’ll have her hands full with Megan Rapinoe, who has yet to be slowed down this season.

Keep an eye on:
• Carson Pickett, still looking for consistency
• Toni Pressley, who may be Orlando’s best centerback

{Related: Q&A with Seattle Reign Midfielder Christine Nairn}


Portland Thorns FC (2-1-2) at Boston Breakers (2-2-1)

Friday, 7 p.m. EDT, Jordan Field
All-time series: Thorns lead, 6-5-0
In Boston: Breakers, 4-2-0
Last meeting: September 4, 2016; 5-1 Thorns

Allie Long and Sydney Leroux. (Photo: Portand Thorns)

Portland may struggle without Allie Long. (Photo: Portand Thorns)

The weekend kicks off with an enticing matchup between Portland, who doesn’t look like themselves but has managed to hang on to third place, and Boston, who also doesn’t look like themselves but is redefining their identity. Led by the aggressive creativity of Rose Lavelle, Rosie White, and Adriana Leon, the Breakers have developed into a fast-paced, high pressing team. Expect Natasha Dowie to lurk around Emily Sonnett, waiting to be sprung by a through ball from Lavelle.

Unfortunately for Portland, that midfield may have taken yet another hit from injury as Allie Long is questionable. Without her, their strongest central midfielder, Amandine Henry and Lindsey Horan have to step up. Part of Portland’s problems in the attack so far is that those three have yet to have strong games at the same time, so perhaps changing responsibilities will shake things up. The Thorns also want to keep an eye on Adrianna Franch’s struggles with distribution and clearances, as it’s something a player like Leon will jump all over. The Thorns are likely to keep the ball on the ground, and look for the attack to heavily feature Meghan Klingenberg, who wants to be wary of leaving as much space behind as she tends to do.

Keep an eye on:
• Angela Salem, solid yet quiet in her defensive midfield role
• The Thorns’ quickly depleting bench


Houston Dash (2-3-0) at Sky Blue FC (2-2-1)

Saturday, 4 p.m. EDT, Yurcak Field
All-time series: Sky Blue lead, 5-1-3
In New Jersey: Sky Blue, 2-1-2
Last meeting: May 13, 2017; 3-1 Sky Blue

If healthy, Sam Kerr could put her name in the MVP hat. (photo courtesy of Sky Blue)

Will Sam Kerr lead Sky Blue to another win over Houston? (photo courtesy of Sky Blue)

It’s one of the more annoying features of NWSL scheduling when teams play each other back to back, but here we are. Last week Sky Blue had little trouble in Houston, and with Kelley O’Hara back, they’ll be even more threatening in the attack. Much was made of Christie Pearce’s return and her impact on the backline, but although their defensive shape was much better, they still gifted Houston a few opportunities on poor clearances that a better team would have put away. The best news for Sky Blue is that Sam Kerr got on the scoreboard, and that paled in comparison to her no-look flick to Leah Galton for the game-winning goal. If the floodgates open, Houston, and the rest of the NWSL, needs to watch out.

The game plan for Houston is simple: everything they didn’t do last week, they need to. They were flat, uninspired, and lacked energy, and not for the first time this season. Habits grow quickly and are hard to break, so the sooner they find the form they’re capable of, the better. Although Kealia Ohai’s touch failed her a few times, she’s yet to face an outside back she can’t turn and found success against both Erin Simon and Kayla Mills. If her teammates can match her drive, they might find the back the net more often. However, it’s an improved defensive performance they need to seek, as Kerr and Galton had no problem pulling central defense out of shape.

Keep an eye on:
• The pure composure of Kailen Sheridan
• More of the Morgan Brian-Andressa pairing

{Related: Mother’s Day with the Roccaros}


FC Kansas City (1-2-2) at Washington Spirit (1-3-1)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Maryland SoccerPlex
All-time series: Spirit lead, 5-3-2
In Washington: Spirit, 4-0-1
Last meeting: July 16, 2016; 3-2 Spirit

Mallory Pugh participates in her first practice with the Washington Spirit. (Tony Quinn, ISI Photos)

Mallory Pugh participates in her first practice with the Washington Spirit. (Tony Quinn, ISI Photos)

If you don’t know what the biggest story from this weekend will be, you’ve been living under a rock. Mallory Pugh is expected to make her professional debut, and no matter what Jim Gabarra says, the expectations are sky high from the start. However, no matter how many goals Pugh scores or assists, she can’t stop the other team from scoring, and the Spirit’s defensive collapse was the biggest story from last weekend.

The good news for the Spirit is that FCKC isn’t as strong in the attack as Seattle was. The bad news is Pugh gets her first test against the best defense in the league. Kansas City may not be scoring much, and if Shea Groom and Sydney Leroux continue to struggle it’s going to become a bigger problem, but Vlatko Andonovski has no worries on the other end of the pitch. Expect a low scoring match, but one in which Nicole Barnhart likely gets called into action more often than Stephanie Labbé.

Keep an eye on:
• Pugh, who else?
• If Brittany Ratcliffe can turn her hustle into goals

{Related: Three Takes on Pugh’s Signing}


Chicago Red Stars (2-2-1) at North Carolina Courage (4-1-0)

Sunday, 4 p.m. EDT, Sahlen’s Stadium
All-time series: tied, 4-4-3
In North Carolina: first meeting
Last meeting: July 1, 2016; 2-0 Flash

Abby Dahlkemper slides to challenge Katie Stengel during the Courage's 1-0 win over the Washington Spirit (photo copyright: EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Abby Dahlkemper struggled against Orlando, leading to North Carolina’s first loss. (photo copyright: EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

The Courage suffered their first defeat of the season last week, losing 1-3 to the (at the time) last place Orlando Pride. However, a loss was going to happen eventually, they’re still in first place, and although they were outplayed, as a team, they were not bad. The key here will be to be able to run their fast-paced game against a Red Stars side that’s pretty good at absorbing pressure and slowing teams down. Makenzy Doniak is having a strong sophomore season, but she may have met her match in Casey Short. In the back, Abby Dahlkemper needs a much stronger game than she had against the Pride, particularly with the absence of Abby Erceg (suspended).

The Red Stars have found success more often than not, but it hasn’t been in the most convincing fashion. The best sign may be that Christen Press stole a point from Boston last week with a last-gasp header, and anytime Press scores, the Red Stars are rising. But although they’ve remained strong defensively in front of Alyssa Naeher, the question remains if the success of Julie Ertz in midfield is worth moving either Danielle Colaprico or Vanessa DiBernardo out of their best positions.

Keep an eye on:
• Debinha to make up for her baffling miss from last week
• Press, who scores in streaks, to find the back of the net again

{Read More: Bayern Munich to see Multiple Offseason Departures}



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