NWSL Week 8 Preview & Picks

A little bit of improvement last week on the Bold (BAD) Predictions front. But not nearly enough. This weekend it's a sweep! (Hopefully not a sweep like week 4.)

Week 1: 4 correct, 1 very wrong
Week 2: 2 correct, 3 very wrong
Week 3: 4 correct, 1 very wrong
Week 4: 0 correct, 5 terribly wrong
Week 5: 1 correct, 4 wrong
Week 6: 1 correct, 4 wrrrrroonnng
Week 7: 3 correct, 3 bad bad bad

The North Carolina Courage split their two games, besting Sky Blue at home before losing to the surging Chicago Red Stars on the Road. Following the away defeat to the Courage, the team some have taken to calling "New Jersey" went home and took care of business against Orlando.

Boston couldn't recover after conceding an own goal and an Henry thumper in the first five minutes in Portland, while FCKC spoiled Mal Pugh's Washington Spirit debut as Leroux put her stamp on the match with a brace. Said Leroux, "Mal Who?" (probably). 

Houston continued their miserable run of Lifetime TV broadcast matches with another defeat, and the performance ultimately spelled the end of Randy Waldrum's tenure at the helm of the team. Laura Harvey's Reign side were rude visitors in the Texas heat, taking all three points home on a 2-0 scoreline. At the closing whistle, however, all eyes were on Rachel Daly, who collapsed to the pitch and was taken to the hospital with "heat illness." Seattle's Jessica Fishlock, who herself captains and manages the Melbourne City squad in the Australian (think: hot hot hot hot summer) W-League, was not impressed.

Naturally, the league has no interest in on-field tragedies. After confirming that Daly would be fine, the NWSL released the following statement:

I'm working on a piece about the NWSL Players Association that will be out soon, but in my conversations with player representatives to the PA, there was a unanimous view that the league is serious about improving player safety and game conditions proactively, not just as a reaction to one or another incidents.

That's a good start, and hopefully will guide the decision-makers to choose match times that make the best sense in the various venues. However, five of the Lifetime matches through the end of August will be held in either Orlando or Cary, NC, with another two in Chicago. Having lived in both the south and the midwest, I can tell you from personal experience that those are going to be some hot summer afternoons. Here's to hydration breaks.

FC Kansas City at NC Courage

Saturday at 3:30 on Lifetime TV

Who will be carded for fouling McCall Zerboni this week? Tune in and find out!

Who will be carded for fouling McCall Zerboni this week? Tune in and find out!

What to make of the Courage? After a dominant opening run to the season, they were stunned by Orlando early in May and have been up and down since. Yesterday, the team confirmed that Yuri Kawamura was lost for the season after tearing her ACL and meniscus during their away match at Chicago last weekend. She'd quickly become indispensable, so Abby Erceg will have some work to do to firm up her line and keep Sydney Leroux off the scoresheet. FCKC, has quietly been building a "defense wins championships" program, though the offense seems finally to have found their appetite to strike again (though their last two matches—both wins—have come at the expense of the Washington Spirit). I'm surprised to admit this one feels pretty even to me. NC's attack vs. KC's defense will be fun to watch. 

NC Courage 2-2 FC Kansas City

Houston Dash at Washington Spirit

Saturday at 7PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast 

Somebody has to win, right?

Somebody has to win, right?

Both teams already have five losses through seven games, and one of them is likely to depart with another. Tori Huster remains out for Washington with a right quad strain, and Morgan Brian is listed as probable with her left hamstring. Neither side has been impressive this season, with the overhauled roster not quite coming together for the Spirit and a bit of everything going wrong in Houston, it's been hard to see signs of hope. Both teams have top class players, but football is a team sport, and neither team has a strong identity.

Washington took a step towards building an identity with the acquisition of Mal Pugh, but she was never going to show up and cause an entire team to suddenly play better across their lines. For Houston, Kealia Ohai was given the keys to the attack and hasn't been able to lift the team to victory. Now, the Dash may have a new shape or tactical approach as they play under interim coach Omar Morales. Will it come together in a week? There is a long, storied history of sports teams stepping up for a new boss. I'm not so sure.

I think the Spirit can win this one, but neither side has been very convincing yet this year.

Washington Spirit 1-1 Houston Dash

Portland Thorns at Sky Blue FC

Saturday at 7PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast

All Portland. Sorry Sky Blue.

All Portland. Sorry Sky Blue.

Sky Blue is going to get an ugly surprise this week when the healthier (though likely Heath-less) Portland Thorns arrive for a Saturday night thumping. Though the home side had a decent May, their wins came against lowly Houston and they lost to Washington. Erin Simon and Erica Skroski are both listed as questionable for Sky Blue, but fans should hope they're fit, as a team-defining performance will be required to keep up with the Thorns. Tobin Heath is still doubtful with her back injury, but Dagný Brynjarsdóttir is questionable, and may see late minutes. Mana Shim and Katherine Reynolds remain OUT. 

Over the past two weeks, Portland drew the Breakers in Boston, coming back from a 2-0 deficit, and then dropped just that scoreline on the Breakers in Portland. A major part of the difference was Allie Long in the lineup, whose connection with Horan and Henry completely changed the effectiveness of the Thorns midfield from marginal to exceptional. Also playing top class ball right now is Haley Raso. Anyone who watched her W-League work over the winter won't be surprised, but Raso has become quite a force for Portland, flashing speed unique to the team. 

No suspense for me here, it's the lock of the week.

Portland Thorns 4-1 Sky Blue FC

Boston Breakers at Orlando Pride

Saturday at 7:30PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast

Who departs for the FIFA break feeling good?

Who departs for the FIFA break feeling good?

The Pride had been looking better with both Marta and Ash Harris, but with Harris out and Dani Weatherholt also missing due to her U-23 WNT call up, it's not looking quite as secure. On top of the bad news on Harris, Alex Morgan ended her European adventure at Lyon by hoisting the UEFA Women's Champions League trophy while icing her re-injured hamstring. She'll head home instead of to Norway with the USWNT, and the Pride will be desperate to get her fit to pair with Marta on attack.

Boston should have put the Thorns away at home two weeks ago, taking a 2-0 advantage into the halftime locker room. But Portland changed tactics and kicked over Boston's midfield, collecting a penalty and one Route 1 pass connection to earn a draw. At home, the Thorns jumped ahead very early and though the Breakers recovered well to keep Portland off the scoresheet for the remaining 85+ minutes, they weren't able to unlock the Thorns to score. 

Boston will be without Megan Oyster, who is nursing a sprained right knee. They'll also be without Allysha Chapman, who was issued a red card in 2nd half stoppage time last week for what was deemed to be a bad tackle. That's half of the regular starting backline, and they're facing Marta. Oy. I'd expect to see Christen Westphal paired with Amanda Frisbie at CB, with Julie King opposite Brooke Elby outside. Fun note: Brooke Elby picked up a red card herself while visiting Orlando last year. Elby was a mainstay last year, and what she gives up to Chappy's exceptional off the ball positioning and instincts she makes up for in recovery speed and nasty collisions. Stay out of the hospital this year, Brooke.

Your NWSL weekend will be incomplete if you don't see this a few dozen times, so enjoy:

Now the pick: I think Boston rebounds from their road loss last week and wins a tight one, provided the thunderstorm forecast doesn't cause problems. 

Orlando Pride 1-3 Boston Breakers

Seattle Reign at Chicago Red Stars

Sunday at 3PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast

Press v Rapinoe. Who ya got?

Press v Rapinoe. Who ya got?

Arin Gilliland will sit this one out for the Red Stars, which for some people will be a plus. I'm not one of those people, as I think you get a lot of good from the defender with William Wallace's eye for game-day face paint. For the visitors, only Bev Yanez has been ruled out as she recovers from the gash ("laceration") sustained last week.

Both sides are fully capable of beating any team on their day, but Chicago has been more convincing recently against better competition. Seattle doesn't tend to drop games against lesser teams, but they've been a bit uneven when given a challenge. At home, I think the Red Stars can put together a win and prove they deserve the top of the table.

Chicago Red Stars 2-1 Seattle Reign