In a silly decision, all those players called up for the USWNT games against China next week were pulled early, forcing them to miss this weekend’s games. It’s ridiculous but it is what it is, so every team but Houston and Washington (and Portland, by virtue of their bye week) must look to their bench in order to compete in NWSL Week 10.
Can Washington compete without Pugh?
Chicago Red Stars (2-3-6) at Washington Spirit (2-6-2)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EDT, Maryland SoccerPlex (Lifetime)
All-time series: Spirit lead, 6-4-3 (plus 1-0-0 playoffs)
I have to temper this by saying that Washington, in eighth place with two wins to their name, hasn’t exactly been competing with Pugh. That said, last weekend’s game in Houston proved they are a different team when she’s on the pitch. If she’s out for any length of time, the Spirit could be in even more dire straits. It’s not a stretch to say that as a whole, the Spirit are underperforming, from their talented yet ineffective midfield to Pugh herself, and they are sometimes struck by a lethargy that was particularly evident both in the first half at Houston and the latter part of the second after Pugh had to leave the pitch. Despite a late gift that put them within striking distance of a draw, there was no frantic scramble for a final goal, no late game pressure. A successful team cannot rely on one player to pull out magic and make something happen, and the change in play with and without Pugh suggests the Spirit are in danger of falling into that trap.
- Red Stars injuries: OUT — Sam Johnson, Stephanie McCaffrey; Vanessa DiBernardo, Summer Green, Casey Short; INT — Julie Ertz, Sofia Huerta; Alyssa Naeher
- Spirit injuries: OUT — Cali Farquharson, Mallory Pugh, Arielle Ship; QUE — Tori Huster; INT — Francisca Ordega
Ironically, they’re facing a team that has the same tendency. The chemistry between Sam Kerr and Yuki Nagasato was finally evident in last week’s game, pulling the Red Stars briefly level with Orlando before Sydney Leroux put the game out of reach, but they couldn’t seem to make much happen besides playing direct to Kerr and hoping she could save them. They’ll be missing a number of players to the USWNT, which could be a mixed bag. On the one hand, Danielle Colaprico might return to her early season form without Julie Ertz on the field and both Vanessa DiBernardo and Casey Short are upgraded to probable for the first time this season. But on the other, the defense needs to sharpen significantly to help out Emily Boyd in her expected professional debut.
Will the goals come?
Utah Royals FC (2-2-5) at Sky Blue FC (0-7-1)
Saturday, 7:00 p.m. EDT, Yurcak Field
All-time series: first meeting
Sky Blue and Utah are the two lowest-scoring teams in the league this season, and even combined, they’d be tied for second-lowest. It’s not that they don’t have talent – Shea Groom, Amy Rodriguez, Carli Lloyd, and Diana Matheson are all capable scorers – but neither team has found their chemistry. We’re more than a third of the way through the season, so the time has passed that a rebuilt roster and new faces suffice as excuses. And for this game in particular, half of those I just named are out.
- Royals injuries: OUT — Alex Arlitt, Mandy Laddish, Kelley O’Hara; INT — Amy Rodriguez, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Smith
- Sky Blue injuries: OUT — Erica Skroski; QUE — Raquel Rodriguez; INT — Carli Lloyd, Savannah McCaskill
What separates these teams are their defenses. Sky Blue has twice the goals against as Utah, in one less game. The Royals boast the league’s best defense, primarily due to the strong central pairing of Becky Sauerbrunn and Rachel Corsie. With Sauerbrunn away, look for Corsie to run the show. However, expect all eyes to be in net, where either we’ll see the professional debut of EJ Proctor, or the return of Nicole Barnhart.
Can Courage depth win the day?
North Carolina Courage (9-0-2) at Houston Dash (3-4-4)
Sunday, 7:00 p.m. EDT, BBVA Compass Stadium
All-time series: tied, 4-4-2
There’s no doubt the Courage are flying higher than ever after embarrassing Portland on Wednesday. However, I’ve always said what sets a championship team apart from others is depth, and that is going to be double tested for North Carolina this weekend. Not only are they coming off a midweek game, but four key players will be gone for USWNT duty. Key here will be Lynn Williams, who scored a brace with a penalty kick and a header and has hopefully shaken the finishing issues that dogged her prior to her injury. Even bigger will be who fills the role of midfield enforcer. Paul Riley’s jack-of-all-trades Kristen Hamilton will probably take one of the spots, but he may look to someone a little more defensively minded such as Elizabeth Eddy as well. (editor’s note — Williams and Hamilton were late additions to the injury report and are both questionable for the match.)
- Courage injuries: OUT — Sabrina D’Angelo, Julie King; QUE — Kristen Hamilton, Jaelene Hinkle, Lynn Williams; INT — Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Merritt Mathias, Sam Mewis, Denise O’Sullivan, McCall Zerboni
- Dash injuries: OUT — Kristie Mewis; QUE — Kyah Simon
Conversely, Houston won’t be missing anyone to USWNT duty this time around, but they have lost Kristie Mewis for the season with an ACL tear. It’s a big blow to a team that is figuring things out but surely, with Mewis a big part of that. Unlike the players on international duty, this is a piece of the puzzle they’ll have to learn to go without until next year. Mana Shim had a good match against Washington and if she can work well with Kyah Simon, that pairing could be an option going forward, while Linda Motlhalo has found a surprising home at holding midfielder.
Who will score for Seattle?
Orlando Pride (4-3-3) at Seattle Reign FC (5-2-2)
Sunday, 9:00 p.m. EDT, Memorial Stadium
All-time series: Pride lead, 2-1-3
Megan Rapinoe leads the Seattle Reign with five goals (in six games). Megan Rapinoe will not be at this game due to USWNT duty. Jodie Taylor is next with three goals in nine games, but she’s had some uncharacteristic finishing problems in front of goal. Players like Bev Yanez and Jess Fishlock can be good for opportune goals but are not frequent scorers. One option may be Elizabeth Addo, who has earned more playing time as of late and looks hungry for her first professional goal.
- Pride injuries: OUT — Camila, Ali Krieger, Marta, Rachel Hill; QUE — Monica, Toni Pressley; INT — Ashlyn Harris, Alex Morgan
- Reign injuries: OUT — Yael Averbuch, Jaycie Johnson, Megan Oyster; QUE — Steph Catley; INT — Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe
Fortunately for the Reign, they face a depleted Pride defense. Haley Kopmeyer is expected to make her Pride debut on her former home field as Ashlyn Harris will be on USWNT duty, but more concerning is the absence of Ali Krieger, out for at least a month with a knee injury. Krieger has been not only the Pride’s ironwoman since her 2016 trade, but she’s easily their strongest outside back, probably the area of the field where the Pride’s pool is weakest. Carson Pickett has been inconsistent, Poliana decent in her few appearances but doesn’t have a strong NWSL history at the position, and Lotta Okvist can’t even make a gameday squad. This is a situation seemingly tailor-made for Rapinoe, but in her absence, it could open up an opportunity for someone like Nahomi Kawasumi.
HOT … OR NOT?
Rachel Daly: Winning Player of the Week with a clear majority, Daly is in fine form in front of net and her three goals helped lead the Dash to six points in a week.
Defender clearances: Three out of four Save of the Week nominations included defenders.
Marta: With her form finally “back from the war”, the Brazilian pulled the strings as only she can do and got three assists in two games.
Haley Hanson: Her soft back pass to Jane Campbell nearly gave away Houston’s win over Washington.
Portland’s man marking: The trend isn’t limited to the Thorns, but once again they struggled to mark on set pieces.
Marta: A calf strain has her out of this weekend’s match in Seattle.