NWSL Week 21 Preview & Picks

Now that the league has cycled through the Wednesday games, every team (other than the Dash and Courage, whose clash was postponed due to Hurricane Harvey) has completed 20 matches. We've only had 19 match weekends so far, so one might be forgiven for referring to this as Week 20. The NWSL's own articles are calling this "Week 19." Nobody knows how time works anymore. 

The real lesson is that setting up a naming convention for articles based on play week did not age well. I'm abandoning ship on that strategy next year, but for now, a simple hop forward to Week 21 will get us back on track. If 20 matches are behind us, this must be 21, right?

This week's Wednesday match between the Courage and Spirit delivered the first playoff squad for 2017 in North Carolina, who clinched with a 3-2 victory in Maryland. Washington's fate at the other end of the final table might also have been sealed, with more injuries accumulating for an already hard-hit squad. More on that later. 

Here's this weekend's fixtures, with a lot on the line.

First up, immediately following some awful movie called "Remote Paradise" on Lifetime, and with no pre-game because they're kicking right at 3:32PM as a way to play in slightly less hot conditions:

Washington Spirit at Portland Thorns

Saturday at 3:30PM on Lifetime TV

Enjoy your time with Henry, Thorns fans.

Enjoy your time with Henry, Thorns fans.

I recapped all the Spirit injuries on Wednesday, and then they played the game. Franny Ordega hurt her hamstring, forcing her to be out this weekend. And, worse, Estelle Johnson was probably lost for the season with a torn IT band. True confession: I've never heard of a TORN IT band. Though iliotibial band syndrome is fairly common, I can't recall ever hearing of a torn band. Not what a team with three ACLs and a meniscus already on the worst list in sports wanted to see. A tiny sliver of silver lining for Spirit fans—Kassey Kallman was upgraded to "probable" as she's now cleared the concussion protocol, and GK Kelsey Wys is no longer listed on the report at all. She's going to be needed, as Stephanie Labbé will again be missing on an excused absence. Still, it's a very tight roster for the Spirit this week.

The Thorns made a few roster moves recently to get Tobin Heath back on the active list, but she's still out with her back injury, sitting with Tyler Lussi and Meg Morris. These (largely) are not the Thorns you've been worried about this season; Heath hasn't played at all. That's very bad news for the visiting Spirit, who will need to dig deep to find a way to escape a miserable experience at Providence Park on a hot afternoon on national TV. 

This morning, news dropped (in French), that Thorns midfielder Amandine Henry will suit up for Olympique Lyonnais following the NWSL season. It's not clear if she'll return. So, if you're a fan of great midfield play, watch Henry like a hawk this afternoon and throughout the remainder of her tenure with the Thorns. She's one of the world's best. Her movement off the ball in particular is a joy to behold, though camera angles sometimes don't permit a TV audience to see it all. Soak it up while you can, and expect to see her dominate in 2019 on her home turf. 

Portland is far superior to the Spirit, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the scoreline get ugly. 

Portland Thorns 4-0 Washington Spirit

Boston Breakers at Orlando Pride

Saturday at 7:30PM on Go90 App

One possible wrinkle here.

One possible wrinkle here.

The Breakers had a surprisingly good game plan against the Pride when they met on August 19th. The defense kept Morgan and Marta away from goal, only conceding on two (questionable, let's be honest) set pieces. Boston was in the midst of some injury woes at the time, and also playing their third match in a week after having been away at Washington and Houston for the previous two. Regardless, the final score was 2-1 Orlando. 

This afternoon, Boston will have the option to get Rose Lavelle on the field. The overall #1 draft choice is a playmaker who we haven't seen since she pulled up with a hamstring injury in Norway. When she's healthy, she can make you forget about any other famous names on the field. So, she's a bit of an unknown for this match. If the match plays out the same way it did in Boston (without the bleak officiating in both directions), Lavelle might provide enough for the Breakers to surprise some people. 

That said, Orlando has been finding ways to win—their last loss was in July to Chicago—and they'll probably be able to keep the Breakers at bay as they eye a playoff berth and possible home championship match. Can Boston spoil their plans today? I do think it's possible, but I suspect another close win for the Pride.

Orlando Pride 2-1 Boston Breakers  

Sky Blue FC at FC Kansas City

Sunday at 6PM on Go90 App

Interesting matchup, this. At 6, not 7, Go90. Hopefully they'll stream it correctly.

Interesting matchup, this. At 6, not 7, Go90. Hopefully they'll stream it correctly.

FCKC welcomes the Sam Kerr show to town on Sunday at 6PM Eastern—not at 7PM as it appears on the Go90 listing pictured above. Will it matter?

Sky Blue has been a bit up and down, losing their manager and long-time captain, dropping 4-1 and 5-0 decisions before recovering to down the Reign 5-4 and Breakers 1-0. The defense is not great, and they have struggled to overcome good defending. They're fairly healthy, and, of course, they've got Sam Kerr in the squad. All she does is change games.

FCKC caught fire in August, beating the Dash in Houston, sending the Thorns home empty handed and trouncing the Red Stars in Chicago. Most recently they fell to the Pride, but Sky Blue isn't as good as any of their prior three opponents, and they might just have the stuff to stomp out the playoff hopes of the side from New Jersey. Unless Sam Kerr erupts, which is always possible. So... draw?

FC Kansas City 2-2 Sky Blue FC 

North Carolina Courage at Chicago Red Stars

Sunday at 6PM on Go90 App

Clinched visits 3rd place

Clinched visits 3rd place

The Courage clinched their playoff berth on Wednesday, and the Red Stars, despite a bleak August, can get really close to a playoff spot of their own with a win at home on Sunday. Interestingly, the only match the Red Stars won in August was their last match, against the lowly Washington Spirit. That win was possible thanks to a Kristie Mewis goal. Mewis, who'd been sent to Chicago from Washington that week, was subsequently re-shipped to Houston after the match. So, a key component of the Red Stars only win since July is no longer a Red Star. In exchange for Mewis, Chicago received oft-injured (or is she?) Morgan Brian. Brian and Press together sounds like a good combination for a playoff run to me, if she's fit. Still, the Red Stars have been underperforming for weeks and I don't trust them.

This tweet did not age well:

North Carolina, on the other hand, never seems to get worked up about anything, and executes a methodical game plan to collect wins. I should mention that the coaching staff does seem to get worked up about things, with both Head Coach Paul Riley assistant Scott Vallow getting sent to the stands on occasion over the past two seasons (Vallow most recently at halftime on Wednesday). 

Regardless, the Courage haven't lost a match since July, and I'm not sure they even need to be at their best to brush the Red Stars aside, unless the normal starters are all rested this weekend. If that's the case, all bets are off.

NC Courage 3-2 Chicago Red Stars

Seattle Reign at Houston Dash—in Dallas

Sunday at 8PM on Go90 App

Toyota Park in Frisco, TX is dry and ready for some football

Toyota Park in Frisco, TX is dry and ready for some football

Conditions in Houston weren't exactly ideal last week, so the Dash had the weekend off. It's hard to know when BBVA Compass Stadium will resume sports operations, as it's being used as a staging area for donations and distribution since Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the region. Sports aren't really important compared to that.

But, because life must go on, the Dash will play a home game in the Dallas area on Sunday. Fans who hold tickets to the match in Houston who are able to get up to Frisco, TX, will get to watch the new-look Dash featuring Kristie Mewis in her fourth shirt in less than a year. They won't see Carli Lloyd, who is still out with a nasty ankle sprain. That's not great news, because though the Dash collected four wins in the past two months, they've come at the expense of Washington, Boston and FCKC. Quality opponents don't seem to give the Dash a chance.

That's been the case for Seattle across both matchups this season. The Reign stomped the Dash 5-1 back in April, then came to Houston to add a 2-0 result in late May. A lot has happened since then, but it's hard to argue the Dash are stronger as currently composed. Plus, the Reign still have an outside shot at the playoffs and can't afford a let down against the league's third worst team. 

Though it would be an uplifting story, I don't see the Dash winning this one.

Houston Dash 1-3 Seattle Reign