It’s another round of midweek games, and at this point few players are fresh. Injuries and shorthanded rosters have some coaches putting out patchwork lineups. For Boston, Houston, and FC Kansas City, the playoffs are all but lost, while Portland and Chicago hold form and Seattle scrambles. The home stretch is here as we begin NWSL Week 17.
GAME OF THE (MID)WEEK
Seattle Reign FC at Chicago Red Stars
Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. EDT, Toyota Park
All-time series: Red Stars lead, 6-4-4
In Chicago: Red Stars lead, 4-0-2
Last meeting: June 28, 2017; 2-1 Reign
Chicago’s slow starts were bound to bite them in the rear sooner or later, and it finally happened. Although they came back to tie up last week’s game by halftime, Emily Sonnett scored the lone second half goal to give the Red Stars their first loss at home. They led the stats in nearly every category but the most important one – goals. Chicago hasn’t been the most offensively potent team, around the middle of the pack, but they have the third least goals against, and maximizing points at home has kept them at or near the top of the table. In order to stay there, they need to get both back on track. They’re fortunate to be facing Seattle without their most potent weapon in Megan Rapinoe, so Alyssa Naeher (who is questionable and could be replaced by Michele Dalton), unusually hung out to dry a few times by her defense last Saturday, may be able to get the backline back in shape. However, Seattle has plenty of good pieces, especially on the flanks, so look for Casey Short and Arin Gilliland to be busy. Both Danielle Colaprico and Katie Naughton are also questionable, so Julie Ertz will need a big game.
Seattle also suffered a rare loss at home, and they were pushed out of the playoff spots by Orlando. In order to get back in, they’re going to have to do better than their lone win on the road. However, they’ve never won in Chicago. They’d do well to maximize the width of the field and switch the point of the attack in an attempt to play around Ertz, who is so good at breaking up attacks. Look for Merritt Mathias to get high from her spot at right back; she contributes quite a lot offensively but needs to watch leaving too much space behind her. Beverly Yanez will be one of the focal points of the attack and is deceptively good at playing with her back to goal. She should draw plenty of attention and leave space for Nahomi Kawasumi to exploit.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
One of the revelations of this season was how much Johnson had improved, playing well enough to give her a starting spot and push Ertz into the midfield. She appeared to have regressed last weekend, so further Red Star success is contingent on her bouncing back.
The Japanese midfielder has seen a lot of time at defensive midfielder and as such is one of the unsung heroes of this team. She has tremendous ball skills and is quietly tenacious on defense. She can also, as she proved against North Carolina, score wonderful goals.
Keep an eye on:
• Yuki Nagasato and Larissa Crummer, both of whom made their long-awaited debuts last week
Houston Dash at Boston Breakers
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EDT, Jordan Field
All-time series: Dash lead, 6-2-1
In Boston: tied, 2-2-0
Last meeting: July 22, 2017; 1-0 Dash
What happens when Houston, without their maestro Carli Lloyd, travels to Boston, without two starters and one backup on their defense? Possibly not much. The two matches so far this year have been quiet affairs with only one goal scored in over 180 minutes of play. Houston really couldn’t get much going offensively last weekend and wasted a few good chances, only earning one corner in the entire match. Their bench was also exposed when Cari Roccaro, a defender, had to come on in place of Lloyd, an attacking midfielder. Roccaro did well, but the shift to a new formation left little going forward. They will need to get their midfield sorted out in order to get service to Nichelle Prince and Rachel Daly in spots where they can be effective. Look for both Cami Levin and Poliana to press very high.
Boston may have spent what gas they had in their tank to take home a point from Washington, leaving them scraping the bench for defenders. Look for Margaret Purce to return at right back, and hopefully she is more comfortable there after two games. They are still dangerous up top, as Rosie White and Adriana Leon have proven recently, but they struggle to build out of the back, and Angela Salem is often tasked with more than she can handle to plug up the defensive holes. Boston needs to tighten their shape on the backline and look to catch Houston up the field on the counter.
Keep an eye on:
• Substitutes – with games this weekend and both teams short-handed, the coaches will have to manage their benches carefully
Portland Thorns FC at FC Kansas City
Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. EDT, Swope Soccer Village
All-time series: Kansas City lead, 5-4-4 (plus 1-1-0 playoffs)
In Kansas City: Kansas City lead, 3-0-3 (plus 1-1-0 playoffs)
Last meeting: June 28, 2017; 3-0 Thorns
Kansas City historically has the edge over Portland, and they’ve never lost at home to the Thorns. While Portland appears to be peaking at the right time, so too did FCKC show glimpses of righting the ship last weekend, although it’s all but too late for this season. However, their nine-game winless streak is over. Part of the reason Houston wasn’t a consistent threat on Saturday was due to the high press that FCKC successfully managed to run for the majority of the game. Whether or not they can continue that for the second midweek game in a row is another story. They’ll want to continue to control possession and avoid losing control of the midfield, and they also need to be more overwhelming in front of goal to get past Adrianna Franch.
After a sluggish start to the season, Portland enters this game on a four-game winning streak, the best in the league currently. They have the second-best defense, which kept the Thorns’ heads above water while their offense figured it out. Christine Sinclair has found her form as she pulls the strings of the attack, and Lindsey Horan pops up all over the place. Combine that with speed on the flanks from Hayley Raso and Ashleigh Sykes, plus the return of Nadia Nadim and Dagny Brynjarsdottir after Euro disappointment, and you have a multi-pronged attack capable of scoring both with and against the run of play. Look for the Thorns to play out of the back and expect heavy involvement from Meghan Klingenberg.
Keep an eye on:
• Desiree Scott, who at her best can be a nightmare for other teams’ midfielders
• Tyler Lussi to miss this one