New! A funny thing happened on the way to the Week 17 Preview & Picks this week. I did the write-up on Thursday night, before the league injury report had been issued. Normally, I wait for that delightful email before hitting the publish button. But I had to drive out of state on Friday morning and knew I wouldn't be back until just before the Lifetime game on Saturday afternoon. As a consequence, some of the analysis is just plain horrible. But, I'm going to leave it and put a little line in between the new (I'll put the new first, and mark it "New!") and the similarly notated "Old!"—just like so:
Old! Every team has completed 16 games, and two have already played 17. Things have started to get wacky in the league schedule, and through the end of the regular season, we'll have a few Wednesday games as a means to get everyone through all 24 regular season matches by September 30th. The NC Courage are currently four points clear at the top of the table, though they'll play most of their remaining games on the road. Still, absent an epic collapse, they should easliy make the playoffs. Even when they're not at their best (as on Thursday night in Kansas City), they aren't a team to settle for a draw, and will dig into their deep bench to find a combination of players who can combine to find a winner. It's a very good team, and they've got to be the current favorites to repeat (sort-of) as NWSL Champions.
But we're not there yet. This week, the long-awaited USWNT youth phenom matchup is on Lifetime, when Rose Lavelle and the Boston Breakers visit Mal Pugh and the Washington Spirit for the game of the week. Only one problem—Rose Lavelle hasn't crossed a touchline since June 11th, when she ran right out of her hamstring late in the game during a USWNT friendly in Norway. The Breakers haven't quite been the same since, missing Lavelle's playmaking and creativity. Hopefully she'll be back before the end of the year, but her talents won't be on display when her Breakers travel to Maryland on Saturday afternoon.
In case you've forgotten what she looks like:
That never gets old. A reminder—Always check back after Breakers home games for player and coach interviews, or subscribe to our YouTube channel and you'll get them mailed to you or whatever happens when you do that. Probably not mail, right?
First up, LIVE on your actual real live cable TV:
Boston Breakers at Washington Spirit
Saturday at 3:30PM on Lifetime TV
New! The same walking wounded are out for Boston again this afternoon, with Westphal, Elby and Lavelle on the bench. NWSL Instagrammer-in-Chief Allysha Chapman is listed as doubtful with a groin strain, but I'd be really surprised if she can't go. I've been surprised before, so take that with a grain of salt. Of note is that Brooke Elby is normally the person to fill in when Chappy can't go. With Elby recovering from minor ankle surgery, a Chappy-less defense would require the Breakers to move some defensive pieces around to make it work. Chapman is so important to Boston's attack, so let's all hope she's fit at game time.
Old! Hear me out. Boston is better than their results indicate, and they've only lost once in their past five opportunities. Unfortunately, they've only won once in that stretch as well, drawing three times. During the same stretch, the Spirit also have one win, but it's one with a big asterisk, as it came against a Sky Blue side that didn't have Kelley O'Hara and Sam Kerr at their disposal due to the Tournament of Nations. On Tuesday night, Washington reverted to form, dropping 3-0 to the Orlando Pride. Other than a home draw against that same Pride side, they've only notched losses lately—and that's mostly been with Mal Pugh available.
Boston's last win came at Washington's expense, and they've certainly got the tools to get over the hump and get three points on the road. Washington will be playing on short rest after Tuesday's match at Orlando, while the Breakers last took the field at home last Friday night. It's a recipe for either a calamitous Boston defeat or a composed win. I'm taking door number two.
Washington Spirit 2-3 Boston Breakers
Sky Blue FC at Orlando Pride
Saturday at 7:30PM on Go90 App
New! RIP my hot takes, as Sky Blue's Kelley O'Hara is out, Lea Galton is out, and both Sam Kerr and Mandy Freeman are questionable. Orlando will still be without Rachel Hill, but they didn't miss her very much on Tuesday.
With or without Kerr? With. or. with. out. Kerr, oh oh?
Sky Blue loooooooooooose, (not) with but without Kerr.
And they'll give the ball away. And they'll give the ball away.
And they'll give. And they'll give. And they'll give the ball away.
Orlando Pride 2-2 Sky Blue w/o Kerr
Old! A red-hot Sam Kerr returns to Sky Blue just in time to (possibly) face the returning Pride GK Ashlyn Harris, who may not be as sharp as she usually is after missing several weeks due to injury. She's among the best when 100%, but Kerr doesn't care who lines up in goal against her. Of greater concern will be the Australians in Tom Sermanni's line-up who know Kerr best. Knowing what someone wants to do is not the same as being able to stop her, however. At least not for a full 90 minutes. I expect at least one flying backflip before the end of this one.
Orlando have only lost once in their last five, with two wins and two draws. They've overcome some injury issues and have seemed a team on the rise, except when they look uninspired and slow, which can happen without warning as happened during a draw at Washington and a loss at Chicago in July. Whatever they do on Saturday night, I'm just not sure it will be enough to keep Sam Kerr down given her present form.
Orlando Pride 1-2 Sky Blue
Portland Thorns at Chicago Red Stars
Saturday at 8PM on Go90 App
New! Chicago has no injury issues tonight, and it looks like Julie Ertz has recovered fully from the collision with the goal frame during the ToN. Across the field, Allie Long won't suit up for the Thorns. Not sure I think it makes a huge difference here, with good depth in both squads. Still feeling like it's either an ugly one-sided affair or a draw.
Old! Having seen both of these teams in person this season, I have to say that the Thorns pass the eye test for me while the Red Stars do not. Chicago never feels like a team that is inevitably going to win, even with Christen Press's undeniable talent leading the attack. She's a boss, but she needed an 89th minute strike to escape the Boston Breakers with an early season draw. Then, just a couple of weeks ago, neither side was able to find the goal, again settling for a draw. For a side that sits second on the table, they've only taken two points from six against the Breakers, and that has to make one wonder how they'll do when the Portland Thorns come to town.
Of course, the Thorns weren't any better against the Breakers in Boston, only managing a 2-2 draw, though they were able to find a way to win on their home turf the following week. These games came during a patch of unconvincing play for the Thorns, but they haven't lost in a month and have most of their international stars back in the side to add class for the playoff push.
Chicago's got one more point, but they dropped a 1-0 decision when they visited the Thorns earlier this season. The Red Stars may also be without Julie Ertz, who picked up an injury on USWNT duty (I don't have the league injury report just yet). Ertz is important, because Portland's midfield is exceptional. Even with Huerta's increasing confidence, a Red Stars side without Ertz will find it difficult to keep Horan, Henry and Brynjarsdottir from dictating play.
This one feels like a frustrating draw to me, unless it's a one-sided blowout. Let's go with the draw. That should make nobody happy.
Chicago Red Stars 2-2 Portland Thorns
FC Kansas City at Houston Dash
Sunday at 8:30PM on Go90 App
New! Not much to see here, other than Shea Groom being probable for FCKC. Since Erika Tymrak wasn't used on Thursday, I expect her to get most of a game to try to unlock the Dash on Sunday night.
Old! As I'm writing, FC Kansas City have just lost to the visiting NC Courage on a Thursday night match scheduled to make up an earlier rain-out. KC was good at times, but, as is their burden this season, they weren't able to find the goal. They defended well for 85 minutes, but without any serious scoring threat, they were always looking like the side that would concede. Lynn Williams found herself unmarked in the box and knocked home a winner that would be the game's only goal.
This was bad news for KC, as they've got to face the Dash away on Sunday night on short rest. It promises to be hot in Houston, which won't help. Also making things difficult is the recent form of the Houston Dash, who, despite Morgan Brian's constant nagging injuries, have been finding ways to get results since the return of Carli Lloyd. Three wins, one loss and a draw in their last five matches have boosted the confidence of the Dash, and nobody feels too bad when their only loss in a month is when they're facing the Thorns at Providence Park. I think they pick up where they left off before the trip to the Rose City and send KC home with another difficult defeat.
Houston Dash 3-1 FC Kansas City
North Carolina Courage at Seattle Reign
Sunday at 9:00PM on Go90 App
New! So—are you ready to laugh? I wrote that "barring an injury report surprise..." we'd have Fishlock and 'Pinoe back and fit to face the Courage. SURPRISE! Jess Fishlock is out with an excused absence, and Megan Rapnioe had surgery on her torn meniscus that will keep her out for at least 5 weeks (unless dragon blood healing works by proximity).
This changes the calculus, but it's possible that having neither player available will somehow work for Seattle. The rest of the team is quite good, but they rightly defer to their stars when one or the other is on the field. On Sunday night, they'll have to try a new approach—one that we haven't seen recently—attack as a team without BOTH Fishlock and Rapinoe. It might just work. Seattle has a deep bench, but they haven't looked at their best when missing just one of these two. How they'll look missing both will make all the difference in this match.
The team selection for the Courage may change based on Seattle's missing two, but they'll need to be careful if they don't want to be surprised by a lineup that nobody has seen. I'm leaning more towards a draw than I was on Thursday, but wouldn't be stunned to see the Reign come out and make a statement.
Seattle Reign 1-1 NC Courage
Old! Strange things happen in Seattle. Welsh women heal broken bones and mashed knees in record time. Unstoppable forces collide and the home field advantage helps five goals hit the back of the net even when four have been scored by the opponent. Now, barring an injury report surprise, the two most important pieces of the Seattle Reign goal-producing machine will be back together on the same field for the first time in weeks. And, they'll be well-rested, after falling 1-0 to the Courage last Saturday evening.
The visitors, however, just finished a disjointed 1-0 win at FC Kansas City, where they needed an 86th minute goal from Lynn Williams to steal the 3 points. Seattle is much better than FCKC right now, and though the Courage has a deep roster, some of the players are bound to show some fatigue as Sunday's match with Seattle wears on. That won't bode well, as Rapinoe seems somehow to get faster and more energetic late in matches. This match should be Seattle's to take. Plus, the Courage are four points clear and can't be caught this week even with a loss. To keep their playoff hopes bright, the Reign need points, and taking three from the league leaders will help keep them out of reach of Sky Blue, Orlando and Houston who can make things interesting with a win (although obviously Sky Blue and Orlando can't simultaneously win while playing each other, and Seattle will still have a game in hand on those two clubs at the end of the weekend).
Dragons can be injured, but from what I've seen, they're pretty hard to keep down.
Seattle Reign 3-2 NC Courage