What in the wild, wild world of sports happened last week? (Besides being a week of perfection for Bold (BAD) Predictions, that is.) I was 0-5, with Portland capping the weekend by falling in spectacular fashion at home to Sky Blue. Oof. Let's see if I can do better this week. Can't do worse!
There are a couple of clouds hovering around the league at the moment. One cloud is injuries. Every team has a few important injuries, and in some cases, the individual or two missing from a squad seems to be a bigger deal to overcome than in other squads.
Portland might be one of the teams most hurt by the loss of a single player. Tobin Heath's back has kept her off the field for the entire season so far, and despite a roster stacked to the gills with talent and international superstars, the Thorns haven't quite put together the level of play that many expect. If not for Hayley Raso, the Thorns might be in deep trouble, as both Christine Sinclair and Nadia Nadim have looked slow this year. Team speed is missing, and they've not had a consistent strategy to unlock their opponents without it. But for fans complaining about the Thorns being victim to "so many injuries" or having a side "decimated by injuries," one must consider that among regular expected starters, it's really only Heath who has been out all year. Teams can't depend on one player to save the day for a whole season. With forwards who no longer have elite speed (other than Raso), Portland will need to make some tactical adjustments in order to stay competitive—especially when Nadim heads back to Denmark for the UEFA Women's EURO tournament next month. They've started this process already, recovering from a 2-0 halftime deficit to earn a draw at Boston a few weeks ago by asking Henry (who will also be gone for EUROs) and Horan to lift balls over the back line for either holdup or first-time plays in front of goal. Unless the Thorns get some points soon, they could be heading for a rough patch without even more of their impact players in July.
There's always a risk to having players called up to their national teams. Just ask Boston, who lost two starters in midfielder Rose Lavelle and defender Allysha Chapman during a bleak 24-hour period of international friendlies earlier in June. Both players are major contributors to the team, and it's been a challenge for the Breakers to make up for their absence. With many teams losing players to the EURO or Tournament of Nations action next month, there are likely to be more injuries to manage once players return to their clubs. The teams that adapt the best and have plans to make up for the loss of their key players will be the clubs that survive to play a 25th match this fall.
NOTE: Due to the return of Go90 App's nonsense last week, the league will open the NWSL website streams to domestic audiences this weekend (and hopefully for the foreseeable future) to try to stabilized the viewer experience. Here's hoping for a week of smooth broadcasts.
Houston Dash at Orlando Pride
Saturday at 3:30PM on Lifetime TV
Wow, I got this one wrong, wrong, wrong last week. Actually, just insert that last sentence at the beginning of every paragraph about every game this week and things should go much better. I want to believe in the Dash. I think they've got the pieces to put together some good performances. But they just don't seem to get it done. New coaching hasn't had much of an impact on the field yet, though that change, plus the return of Carli Lloyd, could start to make a difference soon. I don't think it is enough to get points against an Orlando side that looked left for dead before Marta's arrival. With Alex Morgan in the wings getting healthy, they've got some good things brewing and might become a team nobody wants to play before too long.
Orlando Pride 3-1 Houston Dash
North Carolina Courage at Boston Breakers
Saturday at 4PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast
Boston will introduce Sammy Jo Prudhomme as their starting goalkeeper this week, as Abby Smith had a platelet-rich plasma injection on her knee recently that necessitates a bit of down time. Former Breaker Libby Stout was signed in case of emergency, but the Rookie from USC will get her first NWSL start against the NWSL's current best team. Prudhomme is no slouch, and she did command goal for the 2016 National Champion USC women while dominating the GK stats for the PAC-12. You never want your starting keeper to sit due to injury, but Sammy Jo shouldn't be an outsized liability in Smith's absence. Don't get too worked up though.
Unfortunately, Smith won't be the only important Breaker to sit this match out.
Allysha Chapman and Rose Lavelle are still nursing hamstring injuries suffered on international duty, and Rosie White will spend the match hoping Courage veteran McCall Zerboni earns a 5th yellow card to equal her league-leading tally as she sits due to earning her own 5th last week. If you're keeping track at home, that's zero Rose-s for Boston this week. The midfield is going to look different, and with Zerboni and Sam Mewis in control of the Courage midfield, it's not a great matchup for the Breakers.
North Carolina is still without Jess McDonald, but Lynn Williams is probable with her ankle (another injury from USWNT duty). Will the Courage rest her unless she's needed? With Kristen Hamilton's eruption onto the league stage last week, they can certainly afford to try.
Unfortunately for the injury and card-depleted Breakers, I think the Courage are too strong this week and take home three points to cement a season sweep.
Boston Breakers 1-2 North Carolina Courage
Portland Thorns at Washington Spirit
Saturday at 7PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast
This has to be a gut-check game for the Thorns, right? Don't they have to put together a convincing performance, away from the fevered fanbase? I don't know. Washington seems to be trying to emerge from mediocrity, defeating Houston at home and earning a point at Chicago so far this month. May was fairly bleak, but the Spirit look to be pointed in the right direction. Plus, they should welcome back Tori Huster (though Mal Pugh is still doubtful with her left ankle sprain suffered on—you guessed it—USWNT duty).
Portland will want to improve upon their sad display from last week, but they have just looked fairly slow as a team. I think a draw would be an improvement, and this feels about the most likely outcome to me right now.
Washington Spirit 2-2 Portland Thorns
FC Kansas City at Seattle Reign
Saturday at 10PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast
Seattle and FCKC is one of my favorite matchups in the current league. All the Reign wants to do is fly forward and score, score, score. FCKC would be happy defending for 89 minutes and getting one fluke goal to win or draw. The attack/defend tactical matchup is fascinating to watch and if you like defense, a joy to watch. Last week, three FCKC players had saves on one continuous play. A GK stop, a Sauerbrunn header save as she covered, and an Averbuch clearance backing up her line-mate should have earned the team a save-of-the-week nod. Look. At. This.
Kansas City has slowly rediscovered how to score, and just needs to build some consistency to get themselves up the table. With tonight's matchup in Seattle followed quickly by a Wednesday tilt down the coast in Portland, they'll need a result to avoid a bleak road trip. Does another draw count? One point to Griffindor—er—Seattle, and one point to FCKC.
Seattle 2-2 FCKC
Sky Blue FC at Chicago Red Stars
Sunday at 6PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast
Sky Blue put together a performance to remember last week, trouncing the Thorns at home and (OK, only slightly decreasing the volume of) quieting the raucous home fans before (doing what every team does after every game) trolling the Thorns mercilessly by having their subs run sprints in front of the most fan-filled super fan zone in the park. All a matter of perspective, this.
Here's what nobody will debate: Sky Blue didn't just win, they dominated the match. Portland didn't know what to do, and didn't have any meaningful adjustments to make. Sam Kerr again resembles the oversized shirt-wearing holy menace she's been in the past (including all winter in the Australian W-league). Christie Pearce, who turns 42 today(!), looks like Christie Rampone of, well, any time in the past 20+ years. Both. Women. Are. Bosses.
Chicago reminds me of the Thorns, in that they're full of class, but currently can't quite put it together to dominate as they should. They're healthy, they're at home and they should be dominant. But they haven't yet had that convincing performance in stomping an inferior opponent. Maybe Sunday? I don't see it. I think Sky Blue builds on their impressive trip to Portland by out-classing Chicago and stealing all three points.
Chicago Red Stars 2-3 Sky Blue FC