As the Boston Breakers kick off against the visiting Chicago Red Stars tonight, we'll cross the threshold from the first to the second half of the season. The second half will be a bit strange, with some teams on long road stretches, many teams missing players for various tournaments both in and out of FIFA breaks, and a few teams starting to adjust rosters for playoff pushes heading into the fall. Here's what I expect to see this weekend.
Chicago Red Stars at Boston Breakers
Friday at 7PM on Go90 App and NWSL Webcast
On paper, you'd want to say Chicago shouldn't have any problem putting away Boston tonight. They're in 2nd place, just one point back of the Courage. They've got three wins and a draw from their last five matches. The Breakers sit in ninth place, after occupying the bottom slot for several weeks.
However, Boston shook off having to settle for a draw in Houston to cleanly beat Washington at home last weekend. They've figured out how to adjust to the absence of Rose Lavelle, who remains sidelined with her gimpy hamstring. And, *wildcard alert* they've added the very dangerous Katie Stengel, who may make her home debut against the visiting Red Stars. When rested, and healthy, Boston can compete with anyone. This week, they'll only be without Lavelle, as GK Abby Smith is fit and back with the team following her 2-week stint in the training room tuning up her knee. Haavi and DaCosta are away on international duty for the EURO tournament.
This feels like a draw in a game that both teams will want to win, but I'm going to give the home side a slight advantage as they celebrate the legacy of Tony DiCicco. Boston digs deep and pulls out the win.
Boston 2-1 Chicago
Orlando Pride at Washington Spirit
Saturday at 3:30PM on Lifetime TV
Tori Huster pulls all the strings for the Sprit. Her return from injury has seen the Spirit look much more composed as they've tried to work Mal Pugh into the attack. Prior to their loss at Boston last weekend, they drew the Red Stars away before earning all three points from the visiting Thorns at the end of June. Signs are pointing in the right direction.
Orlando is starting to click. They've had some mixed results, but they're getting players back fit just in time for the hottest part of the season to start. When their defense holds up and doesn't suffer unforced errors, you just can't count out the Pride. I think they'll recover from last weekend's setback with a strong performance against the Spirit in Maryland.
Washington 1-3 Orlando
FC Kansas City at Sky Blue FC
Saturday at 7PM on Go90 App and NWSL Webcast
I really like FCKC, but I think we can all admit that it's just a matter of time before Sam Kerr reveals the wings she's been hiding under those oversized kit jerseys she loves to wear. She'll introduce us all to football for a new generation—football played above the pitch, not just on the pitch. She's such an unconventional attacker that even Averbuch and Sauerbrunn at their best won't be able to anticipate everything she'll try during this match. Barring an uncharacteristic defensive melt-down from Sky Blue, I expect to see Kerr on the Saturday's scoresheet. Possibly more than once. It will be enough for the win.
Sky Blue 3-2 FCKC
Seattle Reign at North Carolina Courage
Saturday at 7:30PM on Go90 App and NWSL Webcast
This one is really tough. It's a well-drilled, very good team of highly talented players who play a composed game hosting a side that attacks with fire-breathing dragons. I like both teams to do well against their opponent's respective defenses. I like the way both sides move the ball through the midfield. Seattle wants to play fast, but they'll get pulled back to ground a bit on the grass in North Carolina. Plus, the visitors will be without Jessica Fishlock, who is fighting the norms of biological reality to get her injured leg back in playing shape after being carried from the field last weekend. I wouldn't count her out for long; she returned just a few weeks after fracturing her leg in a collision with current Courage midfielder (then-Breaker) McCall Zerboni last year. She cited her Welsh dragon blood for her quick recovery, and having seen the injury happen live, I'm going to go ahead and just believe her.
Meg Rapinoe has been on absolute fire recently, and she'll be eager to keep getting results while Fishlock is out. With a win, the Reign would pull themselves to within one point of the Courage in the standings before they head home to host Boston and Sky Blue in the month of July. It's possible they'll get it done. But I just have a feeling this one is going to disappoint everyone and end up in a draw.
Courage 2-2 Reign
Portland Thorns at Houston Dash
Saturday at 8:30PM on Go90 App and NWSL Webcast
I have no idea what to make of these two teams right now. Houston can look incredible and effortless, or they can look disconnected and terrible. Yeah, go ahead and say that for Portland as well. Without Amandine Henry, Nadia Nadim or Dagný Brynjarsdóttir, Portland looks like it has a few holes. That's usually just when they put all the pieces together and look unbeatable.
The Dash are coming off a big road win, while the Thorns looked lost and slow in Seattle. I think Daly and Lloyd are able to find a way to beat the visitors, sending the Thorns home to a season-defining showdown with North Carolina on Lifetime next weekend.
Houston 2-1 Portland