NWSL Week 12 Preview & Picks

Sky Blue FC has played 12 matches already, but the Washington Spirit have somehow managed to only play 10. Since every other team has already played 11 matches (including one this past Wednesday for every team not named North Carolina Courage or Washington Spirit), we're calling this Week 12! And, since I've got to get to the game at Jordan Field to see Boston (and newly claimed forward Katie Stengel) host the Spirit, you'll be forced to endure a slightly truncated preview this week. No crying.

Wednesday was crazy. The Pride topped Sky Blue in New Jersey, despite looking the weaker team for much of the run of play. In Houston, the home team dominated possession, but surrendered a goal to Adriana Leon that was disallowed due to an alleged handling of the ball. You be the judge:

Boston and Houston would eventually split points, finishing officially with a 0-0 draw. In Portland, the Thorns shook off whatever had been keeping them from looking like the world-beaters they should be, thumping FCKC 3-0. And in the late game, Seattle once again found a way to win at home, beating Chicago 2-1 on two second half Megan Rapinoe penalty kicks.

Climb out of the ice bath, it's game day again!

Sky Blue FC at North Carolina Courage

Saturday at 3:30PM on Lifetime TV

No Williams & McDonald, No problem for the Courage this year

No Williams & McDonald, No problem for the Courage this year

Having seen North Carolina in person twice, I can tell you this: They're fast and they're tall. This week, they're also well-rested, which is more than can be said about Sky Blue. The visitors suffered a home loss to Orlando on Wednesday, but must somehow dig deep and find the energy to face the Courage away on national TV. 

Sam Kerr can take over a game when the matchup is right, but she'll need help to get through against the Courage. Plus, though the youth/experience tandem backline at Sky Blue has looked very composed for much of the year, they haven't seen anything like the attacking options the Courage can deploy—since May, that is—when they were sent home on the losing end of a 2-0 scoreline from the very same pitch. If Kelley O'Hara was 100% fit I could see Sky Blue having a better shot, but right now I expect the Courage to continue to roll.

NC Courage 3-1 Sky Blue FC

Washington Spirit at Boston Breakers

Saturday at 4PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast

Somebody has to win

Somebody has to win

Boston will be surly about the result from Wednesday, but they did at least manage to earn a point in Houston. The Spirit have been off since collecting three points from the visiting Portland Thorns on June 24th. They earned a result in every June match, and have looked to be getting better each week, especially once Tori Huster returned from injury. Former Breakers Kassey Kallman and Kristie Mewis will return to Jordan Field hoping to continue the string of positive results.

As much as the Houston match was a "must-win" for Boston, every match until the end of the season is essentially a must-win if the Breakers want to avoid another season that would earn them relegation if we had such a thing in the NWSL. Haavi and Leon were rested for much of the Houston match, I suspect in hopes that they'd both be at full strength for today. One wild card that Boston may play is Katie Stengel, who they claimed off of waivers earlier this week. Stengel was a key part of Washington's 2nd-place finish last year, and would likely be eager to prove her worth not only to her new team, but to the team that just cut her.

There is a 50% chance of thunderstorms in Boston this afternoon, and a 100% chance of a good match. (groan, sorry) Boston finds a way to score and keeps the Spirit in check for the win.

Boston Breakers 3-1 Washington Spirit

DON'T FORGET: Technology permitting, I video the post-game interviews (like so), so c'mon back in a day or two for coaches and key performers talking about the game. You'll get them first if you subscribe to my YouTube Channel

Chicago Red Stars at Orlando Pride

Saturday at 5PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast

Chicago is getting ALL the frequent flyer miles this week

Chicago is getting ALL the frequent flyer miles this week

So, let's take a vacation. How 'bout Seattle on Wednesday and Orlando on Saturday. That makes sense, right? Holy moly.

Chicago, coming off a 2nd half capitulation to (mostly) Megan Rapinoe on Wednesday night, travels to Orlando, who won in energizing fashion in New Jersey on the same schedule. Traveling a quarter the distance with a better result will work to Orlando's favor, and I'd expect the Pride to look brighter to start this one. The Red Stars are capable of great things, but they haven't looked very good on the road recently. That Orlando may trot out Alex Morgan for at least part of this match will not help. Pride rising.

Orlando Pride 2-1 Chicago Red Stars

Portland Thorns at Seattle Reign

Saturday at 10:30PM on Go90 App and NWSL Webcast

Shouldn't this match be on ESPN or FOX?

Shouldn't this match be on ESPN or FOX?

Just an easy (and gorgeous) 2 1/2 hour drive north for Thorns fans, this regional rivalry has been one of the best to watch. Both participants are coming off of invigorating home wins on Wednesday, and they're within one point of each other. They played to a 2-2 draw when they met in May, but both teams have looked more dangerous recently and I get the sense there is a winner to be had here. 

Seattle's quick passing and beautiful off-the-ball movement makes them one of the most enjoyable sides to watch, though they sometimes don't have an answer in the final third (unless you count earning penalty kicks). Both teams are stocked with veteran players who may not be back to full fitness after giving everything on Wednesday. There's a little bit of depth advantage for the visitors, but I can't ignore what I saw from Fishlock and Rapinoe on Wednesday. That was some just sweet football to watch. To the home side go the points.

Seattle Reign 2-1 Portland Thorns

Houston Dash at FC Kansas City

Sunday at 6PM on Go90 App & NWSL Webcast

Dash are better, but not better than FCKC at home

Dash are better, but not better than FCKC at home

FCKC and Houston get an extra day of rest before testing each other on Sunday evening. The Dash looked OK against Boston, but couldn't translate dominance in possession into shots on goal or dangerous chances. FCKC found themselves the unlucky victims of the inevitable "Thorns are BACK" match where all the pieces finally came together to prove that all of the talented players on the roster have not, in fact, forgotten how to put together a complete performance. 

People like to hate on Carli Lloyd, but as long as she's being used as a part of a team and not being depended upon as a savior, she's a player anyone should want to have. FCKC's normally tough defense showed some cracks in Portland, and the forwards did not help the team by putting away any of the chances created. I don't expect the defensive issues to persist against the Dash, who aren't close to being the Thorns in attack. But the home side simply must find a reliable way to create scoring opportunities or they'll remain destined to collect single points for the rest of the season. I think they get the job done on Sunday and down the Dash.

FCKC 2-1 Houston Dash