Welcome back to Week 18 previews & picks. Kindly scroll down past the horrible predictions from Wednesday. Yes, they're all wrong. Two are wrong because I caved to either sentimentality or logic in making a pick, but the third—What happened Thorns?!? Will their loss or the gut punch delivered by the Reign to the Red Stars have more of a lasting impact? Let's take a look.
Oh yeah, it's probably more accurate to call this Week 19, because all but two teams have already completed 18 games, but I'll stick with the Spirit and Courage this week and keep calling it Week 18.
Scroll, scroll, scroll!
So many matches to preview, so little time. Here's a plan: Let's look at Wednesday's games on Wednesday, then I'll add the weekend matches after seeing how six sides perform mid week. Deal? You have no choice, actually. Deal it is!
First, live from Boston:
Houston Dash at Boston Breakers
Wednesday at 7:30PM on Go90
The Houston Dash will be in Boston on Wednesday without Carli Lloyd. Morgan Brian is questionable, but I'm not expecting to see her play (so beware, she'll probably play all 90 mins). For Boston, injuries are plentiful. Rose Lavelle is still out, as are Brooke Elby, Christen Westphal and Allysha Chapman.
With four players hurt and only nineteen on the roster following Emilie Haavi's departure back to Norway this week, Boston will only be able to select from 13 field players (the other two are GKs). Boston has attacking depth, but won't have any surplus anywhere else. Here's your (relatively) healthy Breakers. Many of these women are carrying miscellaneous bumps/bruises/knocks of one sort or another, but there aren't any other players to suit up.
Defenders, non-injured: Megan Oyster, Julie King, Amanda Frisbie and ???
Midfielders, non-injured: Angela Salem, Amanda Da Costa, Rosie White, Morgan Andrews
Forwards, non-injured: Katie Stengel, Natasha Dowie, Midge Purce, Tiffany Weimer, Ifeoma Onumonu, Adriana Leon
This almost surely means another episode of Midge Purce, Fullback is on tap for the evening.
Houston will miss Lloyd, and if indeed Brian isn't ready, they'll have to put together a new lineup as well. But they've been playing well and should be able to manage.
However, I'm taking Boston to win this one, unless they're doomed to draw every match until the end of time, which seems increasingly possible. Better than losing, for sure, but with the red-hot Pride coming to town on Saturday afternoon, they'll rightly view this match as the easier one to take. 3 points to the home town in Boston.
Boston 2-1 Houston
Portland Thorns at FCKC
Wednesday at 8PM on Go90 App
Hey, FCKC has been starting to get a few things right. They've also been tough at home. But Portland is about to start putting down the pedal, and though they'll be without the services of Tyler Lussi for three games on a suspension she picked up after yanking Danielle Colaprico's hair last week, they'll hardly miss her. This team knows how to attack and how to win. They haven't so much as dropped a point recently. The roll continues tonight.
FCKC 1-3 Portland Thorns
Seattle Reign at Chicago Red Stars
Wednesday at 8PM on Go90 App
Seattle gets a clean bill of health for everyone except Megan Rapinoe tonight in Chicago. Unfortunately, she's a big part of why the Reign have been competitive this year. They absolutely need points to stay close to the top four, and they should be able exploit some of what was evident on tape from the Red Stars barn-burner match with the Thorns over the weekend.
Chicago will have to be careful not to get complacent facing the 'Pinoe-less Reign, as they're still dangerous and have exeptional ball movement. They've listed Colaprico, Naughton and Alyssa Naeher as questionable, but I wouldn't be surprised to see any of them get involved in this one.
As a team, Chicago hasn't impressed me with an ability to be dominant throughout a match. They recovered impressively after going down by 2 last week, but then surrendered a late winner to give the Thorns all the points. If they're going to do anything in the playoffs, they'll need to beat teams like Seattle on short rest and on their home field.
Not sure I see either side getting over the hump on hump day.
Chicago Red Stars 2-2 Seattle Reign
C'mon back on Saturday for the rest of the previews. This time, I'm going to wait until AFTER the injury report has been released to consider my impossibly bad predictions. That will make all the difference. I'm sure of it. (So, you know, it won't.)
Saturday & Sunday Picks Start Here!
WELCOME BACK! So, the injury report release did indeed make a difference for discussing this weekend's matches, but it's not a difference any of us were hoping to see.
Sky Blue FC listed Christie Pearce as "SEI — accumulative injuries." For the uninitiated, "SEI" means "Season Ending Injuries," which, thought no official announcement has been made, may mean that we've had the last opportunity to see the 42 year old lace up her boots for club or country.
I know exactly how old Pearce is off the top of my head, because she's 17 days older than me. Having at least one athlete still active in the league I love who wasn't born when I was in high school or college (or later, yikes) has been a gift, keeping me feeling young-ish. Now, I'll have to face reality. I'm an #old. That's a bummer. Of course, her retirement isn't about me. Christie Pearce has given so much for so long and I hope that she can heal quickly and transition to whatever she wants to do next. She deserves it. All of it.
When the NWSL released the schedule for the season, it occurred to me that Pearce may elect to retire at some point this year. If the team wasn't going to make the playoffs, I thought she may bow out at home. But if Sky Blue's playoff hopes came down to the final week, she'd have had an away game at the Boston Breakers for her final match of the regular season. I'd have liked to have thanked her for her inspirational leadership and years of performance at the highest level. I'd have liked to see the standing ovation the Boston fans gave her as she was subbed off in the 80th minute in a game Sky Blue would ultimately lose on an error by the subbed-in replacement center back. And I'd have liked to have captured some of her thoughts on her long career in the mixed zone to share with you.
But if we've seen the last of Pearce on the pitch, the low-key departure won't be that surprising. Her retirement from the USWNT passed with minimal fanfare as well—a brief ceremony at the frigid She Believes Cup match in New Jersey this spring. She walked out, waved to the crowd, hugged Abby Wambach, took a few pictures with her kids, and went right back up the tunnel.
At halftime, Pearce came in to the media room to talk a little bit about her career. I was able to get video of some of it, though the sound quality is poor and it ends rather abruptly. But I think it's better than nothing. If nothing else, you can try to name your favorite WoSo journalists visible in the mob of people. Enjoy!
Later, as the assembled media jockeyed for position in the cramped hallway mixed zone beneath Red Bull Arena following the USWNT's loss to England, Pearce, Wambach and Heather O'Reilly tiptoed behind the scrum with the same devilish glint in their eyes that made them so special for so long. Just passing through. Nothing to see here. The torch has been successfully passed.
OK THEN! There are 5 matches to preview, so let's see what's up.
Washington Spirit at North Carolina Courage
Saturday at 3:30PM on Lifetime TV
Lifetime's Game of the Week lands in North Carolina this week, and I think the cable TV crowd will have an enjoyable match to watch. But the Courage are going to win, right? Surely they're not going to drop a game to the lowly Spirit at home? That win over Sky Blue feels a loooong way away for the Spirit, and I don't expect to see anything other than a dominant win by the table toppers on Saturday afternoon.
NC Courage 3-1 Washington Spirit
Orlando Pride at Boston Breakers
Saturday at 4PM on Go90 App
This match is sold out in Boston, which will make for a great atmosphere. But plenty of the seats will probably be occupied by fans in either Pride purple, or USWNT jerseys bearing "MORGAN" or "HARRIS" or "KRIEGER," or Brazil jerseys emblazoned with "MARTA" on the back. I suppose some fans may be catching on to the exciting Matildas as well, and an odd "CATLEY" or "KENNEDY" shirt wouldn't be unexpected.
There was a bit of good news for the Breakers in that Allysha Chapman was listed as probable on the injury report, though Head Coach Matt Beard didn't seem terribly optimistic about being able to call her number for the weekend as of Wednesday night. Without Chappy, the Breakers were a mess on defense mid-week, and it's hard to imagine the same defense that surrendered 3 to the Dash somehow holding off Alex Morgan and Marta. It's possible, but it's a really tough ask.
Adding to the injury woes for Boston, the team will say goodbye to midfielder Amanda DaCosta, who is retiring after Saturday's match (check back soon for a feature on DaCosta). Following Emilie Haavi's release and return to Norway, that will leave the Breakers with only 18 active players on the roster. With Lavelle, Elby and Westphal all scheduled to be out for at least a few more weeks, plus a few other possible wrinkles still to come, there won't be a lot of suspense on Matt Beard's team sheet in the coming weeks, because there simply won't be any depth to call upon.
This match looks like a baaaaaddddd matchup for Boston, but they'll play hard and I think they'll keep it respectable. Still, I don't think there is any way to keep Marta down for 90 minutes anymore, for any team. The Pride continue their playoff run.
Boston Breakers 1-3 Orlando Pride
Seattle Reign FC at Sky Blue FC
Saturday at 7PM on Go90 App
The Reign toppled the Red Stars in demoralizing fashion on Wednesday, grabbing two goals in the last few minutes of play to stun the home side with a 2-1 win. Sky Blue without Kelley O'Hara hasn't looked nearly as dangerous, and the team will be without both (former) team captain Christie Pearce and (former) Head Coach Christy Holly. No Christie/y, no winning. At least this week.
I think the Reign find their stride and make more people wonder exactly what's happening behind the scenes in New Jersey.
Sky Blue FC 1-3 Seattle Reign
Houston Dash at Portland Thorns
Saturday at 10PM on Go90 App
Houston scored 3 in Boston mid-week, while the Thorns couldn't hold off a late-game charge by FC Kansas City (for some reason repeatedly called "Kansas" by a certain broadcaster who will not be named—but, while there is a Kansas City, KS, this team plays in MO. Similarly, a team from Paris, TX wouldn't be called, "France.") and ended up losing to the Blues at Children's Mercy Victory Field.
That said, the Thorns aren't going to drop two in a row, and certainly not at home.
Portland Thorns 2-1 Houston Dash
FC Kansas City at Chicago Red Stars
Sunday at 6PM on Go90 App
The Red Stars collapsed at home this week, losing to the Reign in demoralizing fashion. It's a team with many vets, so I don't expect any hangover. But.
FCKC had their own late-match heroics this week, and they'll know the Red Stars shouldn't be nearly as difficult to beat as the world-class Thorns.
A combination of results could dump the Red Stars out of the top four over the weekend, and they've only won one of their past five. Trouble in the windy city? Nah. This feels like a draw that will be a good result for FCKC but a potentially critical dropping of points by the Red Stars.
Chicago Red Stars 2-2 FC Kansas City