It's only been a couple of weeks, but it feels like we haven't had any NWSL action for a month. After the FIFA break, the league is back today with five matches sure to entertain. Unfortunately, several notable players picked up injuries while on international duty and may not be back on the field right away. The upside to the break is that players not called up for international friendlies had some time to heal and rest, so at least they will be ready to go.
Bold (BAD) Predictions are toiling away as always, but I'm going to stop listing all the weeks out of mercy for myself and for you. Suffice it to say that match week 8 was... mixed.
Uncharacteristically, I called for multiple draws, but there were none. In fact, on Saturday, all three matches ended with 2-0 scorelines. Predicting such results would have felt like filling in all the "B" circles on a standardized test. Surely that can't be right, right? Alas, it was right, and my meagre predictive powers were once again shown to be just as wanting as in previous weeks: 2 correct, 3 wrong. Onward!
Washington Spirit at Chicago Red Stars
Saturday at 4PM on Lifetime TV
Both of these sides have found a way to win lately, with the Sprit given a spark by the arrival of Mallory Pugh. That spark will be on the sideline on Saturday afternoon with the same sprained left ankle that bumped her from the USWNT v Norway match last week. Chicago doesn't have any players on their injury list at all, and combined with the home game and the Spirit spending most of the past 24 hours twiddling their thumbs during airport delays and trying to sleep, I'm giving the edge to Chicago.
Red Stars 2-1 Spirit
Boston Breakers at North Carolina Courage
Saturday at 7:30 on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast
Boston was hard done by the international break, losing midfielder Rose Lavelle for 4-6 weeks with a hamstring injury and outside back Allysha Chapman for a spell with her own hamstring injury. Both players went down during their international friendlies, sending blood pressure up, up and up in the Boston area.
Boston's Megan Oyster is still listed as questionable on the injury report with the same knee strain that kept her out of Boston's last match. However, her social media hints that she'll be fit to go.
For the Courage, the news is perhaps a bit better, but still not great. Lynn Williams was scrubbed from both USWNT matches with a right ankle sprain she picked up in training. She's considered questionable today, but I don't expect to see her play unless getting some late minutes if she's needed. Of greater concern is the left hamstring of Jessica McDonald, who won't suit up against Boston tonight.
If you like to wager on yellow card accumulation suspensions (and who doesn't?), you'll want to watch Rosie White and McCall Zerboni tonight. Both physical midfielders sit on four yellows and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see them simultaneously foul each other and yellow card their ways to one week vacations. That would be bad for both clubs, but seeing as they play each other again next week (in Boston), it might be the fairest possible outcome to see both players miss that game. If just one misses the match, there will be grumbling. Much grumbling. Chances of at least one of them collecting their fifth? I'd say better than 60%.
All the injuries will require both sides to lean hard on their benches. Carolina has seen rookie Ashley Hatch emerge as a serious scoring threat, and Boston has been slowly bringing along several rookies of their own. Whichever side can put it together first is going to win. I think Boston can get past the Courage, unless Lynn Williams regains fitness and plays more than 30 minutes.
Courage 1-2 Breakers
Seattle Reign at FC Kansas City
Saturday at 8PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast
Stop me if you've heard this: "The Reign have NEVER beat the Blues on the road."
Injuries shouldn't factor much into this match, and Seattle will desperately want to collect some road points. But FCKC's defense has kept the team afloat long enough that they've rediscovered how to score goals (at least at home). Seattle, for all their early-season firepower, have struggled against quality defending. I'm not sure they rewrite the script just yet. Defense holds for the home side and FCKC grabs all three points.
FCKC 2-1 Reign
Orlando Pride at Houston Dash
Saturday at 8:30PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast
Who'd have thought the Dash would have been relieved to see Carli Lloyd return from her stint at Manchester City, hoping her veteran leadership would be the catalyst they'd need to put their talented squad into shape to win? Who'd have guessed Ohai and Beckie would be so ineffective in the first third of the year, and that Rachel Daly would be pushed into the defense? It's been an ugly start to the season for Houston, but this is a team of skilled individuals in need of a strategy to use all their strengths. Randy Waldrum's departure was a step in the right direction. Carli Lloyd's return is another. Sometimes, two steps in the right direction can make all the difference.
Orlando was a bit of a hot mess before Marta's arrival. Alex Morgan is back with the team (although re-injured), and should work her way back at some point next month. The mostly-Australian back-line has settled down. Their home win in the monsoon against the Breakers showed some good things brewing and they should be a team on the rise through the summer. But, I don't like them at Houston for some reason.
Carli lights a fire and the Dash figure out how to win.
Dash 3-1 Pride
Sky Blue FC at Portland Thorns
Saturday at 10PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast
Tobin Heath is out. Nadia Nadim is doubtful. It won't matter.
Sky Blue was on the zero end of one of those 2-0 matches last week to this same Thorns side, and they were on their home pitch. Tonight, in the rowdy confines of Providence Park, things could get ugly.
Sky blue will be without Erin Simon and Erica Skroski, and they'll need to unveil a flawless game plan to take points from the Thorns in Portland. It would be entertaining to watch, and I'll be watching either way, but I can't see how Portland doesn't win this one.
Thorns 4-1 Sky Blue