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NWSL Week 9 Preview: Are streaks made to be broken?

A very busy week of soccer awaits, with three midweek games and four weekend matches. Two of today’s three offer an opportunity for both streaks to be broken and record to be approached, while Sky Blue looks for their first win of the season and their first win over Washington since 2016. I hope your caffeine and multiple viewing screens are ready to go, because a jam-packed Wednesday kicks off NWSL Week 9.

Will Orlando stifle North Carolina again?

Ali Krieger (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

North Carolina Courage (7-0-2) at Orlando Pride (3-3-2)
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EDT, Orlando City Stadium
All-time series:  Pride lead, 3-2-0

The Courage are looking to keep pace with the 2014 Seattle Reign for the best 10-game start in league history (8-0-2) and become the third team (2016 Thorns) to open a season with 10 unbeaten. Last season North Carolina’s undefeated streak was ended by their first visit to Orlando, also falling to the Pride in the regular season final (in Cary) before getting defeated by Portland in the NWSL championship at Orlando City Stadium. The Pride, and their home field, have proven to be somewhat of a Waterloo for the Courage.

  • Courage injuries: OUT – Sabrina D’Angelo, Makenzy Doniak, Yuri Kawamura, Julie King, Lynn Williams; QUE – Kristen Hamilton
  • Pride injuries: OUT – Camila; QUE – Ashlyn Harris, Monica

Orlando comes into this match with a few advantages, rest being the biggest one since they had a bye last weekend. They also have the high of having defeated Portland for the first time ever, in Portland to boot, and doing so without Marta or leading scorer Chioma Ubogagu. With a tendency to rely too heavily on Marta when she’s on the pitch, the Pride managed one of their better performances of the season so far without her. However, the Courage seem to be in a league of their own at the moment, and Orlando will need all of their best to hand them their first loss.

Will the Spirit find success from Sky Blue again?

Whitney Church mixing it up in an aerial dual during the Spirit’s 2-0 win over the Orlando Pride (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Sky Blue FC (0-5-1) at Washington Spirit (1-5-2)
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EDT, Maryland SoccerPlex
All-time series: tied, 7-7-2

Last season, three of the Spirit’s five wins came at the cost of Sky Blue, a matchup that Sky Blue just couldn’t get the better of despite having the better standing. There isn’t as much of a divide this season, as the Spirit have only one win with none for Sky Blue. The Spirit may get a morale boost from Rose Lavelle, who is expected to be available for the first time, but she’s not likely to make a tangible impact or anything more than a cameo appearance. To repeat last year’s results, they’ll want to get more out of Taylor Smith, who is likely to face Savannah McCaskill, and be more protective of the ball in midfield.

  • Sky Blue injuries: QUE – Christina Gibbons, Rebekah Stott
  • Spirit injuries: OUT – Cali Farquharson, Cheyna Williams, Arielle Ship

The teams tend to set up similarly in a traditional 4-3-3, and the result of this game may come down to the front three. The strikers need to be fluid and dynamic, switching up the attack and probing until they find a weakness, which both defenses have. Mallory Pugh and Ashley Hatch have shown more of a partnership than anyone on Sky Blue (one of the Jersey team’s biggest issues), but Hatch needs to work on finishing off the chances Pugh creates.

Can Houston break the streak?

Haley Hanson takes on Carli Lloyd. (photo copyright Nicole Rossi for The Equalizer)

Seattle Reign FC (4-1-2) at Houston Dash (1-4-4)
Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. EDT, BBVA Compass Stadium
All-time series:  Reign lead, 10-0-0

Two weeks ago, all the buzz was on Orlando beating Portland for the first time. However, there is a lopsided streak even longer than that – Houston has never taken points off Seattle in the Dash’s four-plus year existence. If the Dash are going to break that, several things need to change from their listless game against Utah last week. First and foremost, they need to figure out how to combine defensive organization with an offensive threat. Not for the first time this season, they didn’t register a shot on goal in Saturday’s game, but for the most part, they managed to keep Amy Rodriguez and company from getting too many dangerous chances. Jane Campbell had a good match after a shaky start, although Erika Tymrak’s goal was probably savable as it lacked power after a very good team buildup. So if the Dash can keep their defense compact and collapse quickly to prevent a quick counter, they should limit the Reign’s chances. Going forward, though, if they’re going to sacrifice possession and pick and choose their chances to attack, they have to make those chances count. Too often was Rachel Daly left isolated up top, or Kealia Ohai got the ball in position for a cross only to find no one at home on the end of it.

  • Reign injuries: OUT – Yael Averbuch, Jaycie Johnson, Megan Oyster
  • Dash injuries: QUE – Linda Motlhalo

It’s the deliberate sacrifice of possession that may spell their doom once again. Vlatko Andonovski’s Seattle Reign demonstrated some wonderful buildup against Chicago, although their finishing was lacking. Lauren Barnes and Lydia Williams both had great games supporting a defense that wasn’t Andonovski’s first choice, keeping Sam Kerr from getting a shot off. Allowing the Reign the opportunity to attack relentlessly in the hopes of breaking down an organized defense on the counter doesn’t read like Houston’s best plan for success.

HOT … OR NOT?

Hot

Carli Lloyd: She had her best game of the year so far and was Sky Blue’s best player in last Saturday’s game well before she blasted a shot in the net for a consolation goal.
Shelina Zadorsky: She works well with Monica, and her consistency is beginning to prove that last season’s struggles may just have been an off year.
Katelyn Rowland: Few people can claim to have stopped a well-placed Carli Lloyd penalty kick, and even fewer have followed that save with a second on the rebound.

Not

Houston’s offense: They didn’t record a shot on goal against Utah … again.
Amanda Frisbie: She was somewhat thrust into the fire in her Sky Blue debut, but running into her own goalkeeper, causing her to give up a goal, was cringeworthy.
Penalty calls against Amber Brooks: She can’t catch a break.

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