NWSL Week 23 Preview & Picks

There are two weeks remaining in the NWSL regular season. We now interrupt your regularly scheduled bad Lifetime movie for a thematically appropriate clip from a classic.

"How long will do you plan to stay on Mars?" 

"Two Weeks."

"Have you brought any fruits or vegetables on the planet?"

"Two weeks." 

"Excuse me?"

"Two weeks. two weeeeks! [grumble grumble grumble] Get ready for a surprise!"


OK, that was fun. Much better than "She Found a Stalker in the Bedroom" or "Why Did That Boy Chase Me Through The Woods." (No, these aren't real Lifetime movies.)

We're back with league action after some fun international friendlies and a sweet new (not at all new, this was supposed to be solved) beef between the USWNT and USSoccer: Turf Wars, Part 2.

TL;DR

"So, yeah, we'll totally play you on grass aaaallllll the time from now on!"

"Sweet, thanks! It's about time!"

"I mean, we'll almost never do that and we won't talk to you about it and we don't really care."

"Wait, what?"

Ugh. 

Here's this weekend's fixtures. Orlando and Chicago can punch their tickets to the playoffs, but things might just get interesting. 


First up, immediately following some awful movie called, "I Am Watching You" and just prior to an even more awful movie entitled, "The Bride He Bought Online" on Lifetime TV, we've got the Portland Thorns at the Orlando Pride. Those are the real movie titles, which are far worse than the fake ones I used above.

Portland Thorns at Orlando Pride

Saturday at 3:30PM on Lifetime TV

The Thorns are already in the playoffs. Will they play spoiler in Orlando?

The Thorns are already in the playoffs. Will they play spoiler in Orlando?

Orlando sit fourth at the moment, five points clear of Seattle with a good shot at making the playoffs. But they have to face the Portland Thorns this week, and they'll need to put up one of their best performances of the season to get points in this one.

Both sides emerge from the international break in pretty solid shape on the injury front, so there isn't much to tip the scales besides Portland's uneven road performances from the season. 

Alex Morgan was an absolute monster against New Zealand, converting multiple goals from tight angles and with impeccable precision. She's in her best form in recent memory, but she'll have to beat Portland's Adrianna Franch, who has quietly had the best season of any keeper in the league. Franch won't get caught out with the (uncharacteristically) poor positioning of NZ's Erin Nayler, and she'll have a better defense protecting her as well. Still, Morgan will have chances, and it would be silly to think she won't be able to convert any of them.

I think this game is pretty even, with a slight advantage to the home side. The many internationals in this match may show some fatigue from play and travel, but they're all pros and it shouldn't be too much of a factor.

For Orlando, it's win and they're in. A draw leaves their fate in question, though if they earn only one point from their final two matches and Seattle wins out, they'll end up tied on points, with two 1-1 head to head draws. Then we'll get some super fun deep-dive tie-breaks to learn about. They could also benefit from any bad results from the Red Stars, who are level with Orlando on points as the final two games get started. Let's just dispense with the drama and say they get the job done. After all, if they can't beat Portland now, they don't really deserve a possible rematch in the playoffs.

Orlando Pride 2-1 Portland Thorns


Boston Breakers at Washington Spirit

Saturday at 7:00PM on Go90 App & NWSL Website

Sully-fest?

Sully-fest?

Remember seeing Rose Lavelle start the game for the USWNT on Tuesday night in Cincinnati? You know, her hometown? Hope you liked that, because she's OUT of this game for the Breakers. She'll be joined on the bench by Julie King and Christen Westphal, both of whom are still contending with lingering injuries from earlier in the season. Lavelle had been available as a substitute for the Breakers, but she's either being rested out of an abundance of caution or she aggravated her hamstring injury on USWNT duty. Again. Fun times.

Of course, the Spirit won't shed any tears for Boston, as they have almost a full starting XI on their injury report, including eight players who will be out. Cheyna Williams is doubtful with her hamstring and Whitney Church is probable, having mostly healed her strained left adductor.

This match will define the bottom of the NWSL table, and, most likely, the draft order. The Spirit face the Courage to end the season, while the Breakers host hot/cold Sky Blue. If Boston doesn't take all three points from the Spirit, they'll be in a tenth place hole with no path to dig back out. As it is, a road win will only draw the Breakers even with the Spirit on points. Hopefully Andi Sullivan likes chowdah.

But, here's the thing. Boston's going to win this game, and they're going to win next week too. So enough of the "suck for Sully" nonsense. Boston rediscovers their final third, and repeats their strong form from their unlucky loss to the Thorns on their way to a solid win.

Washington Spirit 0-3 Boston Breakers


Chicago Red Stars at Houston Dash

Saturday at 8:30PM on Go90 App & NWSL Website

This match matters.

This match matters.

The Red Stars head to Texas with a shot to lock up a playoff berth. They'll have to face the Thorns in Portland in a week, and they won't want to let their playoff chances come down to the final weekend. Still, this is a tough matchup, and the Red Stars haven't done well in Houston, losing on both of their prior two visits. 

The Dash are still without Carli Lloyd due to her ankle injury, which, with all due respect to the grumbling masses, is a big loss from the lineup. The Red Stars have zero players on their injury report this week, and will want to make a statement to show they belong in the playoffs. And, even though they're sometimes not the most convincing side to watch—they probably do indeed belong in the playoffs. Loads of talent, room to continue to grow, a slightly unfinished product—sounds a bit like a certain WNY Flash side from a year ago. That worked out OK.

I think Chicago probably wins, but I wonder if a certain Englishwoman might want to make a statement of her own in her first opportunity to play since seeing the manager who hasn't called her into England camp lately sacked in disgrace this week. Rachel Daly is capable of taking over a game, and I'd be surprised if she didn't try her best to make this game one to remember. 

Let's keep the suspense alive for one more week.

Houston Dash 2-1 Chicago Red Stars


North Carolina Courage at Sky Blue FC

Sunday at 6PM on Go90 App & NWSL Website

Sam Kerr vs the WORLD

Sam Kerr vs the WORLD

Sky Blue, who are you? After a mid-season Sam Kerr-led dominant display, you fell 5-0 to Orlando, 4-1 to FCKC and 2-1 to the lowly Washington Spirit. You needed an uncharacteristic missed clearance from Abby Smith to score against the Boston Breakers. You can't possibly beat the Courage, right? Oh, right, you already did just a few weeks ago. In North Carolina, no less.

Still, unless Sam Kerr decides to remind the FIFA "Best" voters who should really have received their votes for a third time in a week (after leading Australia to two wins over Brazil on home turf), Carolina will graciously execute their clinical attack and keep practicing for their forthcoming home playoff match.

Sky Blue FC 1-3 NC Courage 


FC Kansas City at Seattle Reign

Sunday at 9PM on Go90 App & NWSL Website

C'mon Reign.   Reign  .

C'mon Reign. Reign.

Seattle needs some help, but they only need beat FCKC and the Washington Spirit over the final two weeks to give themselves a chance to make the playoffs. They'll need either Orlando or Chicago (or both) to drop points in both games, but if either of those teams loses twice and Seattle wins twice, they'll leapfrog to the top four, and get ready to head to North Carolina for a semi-final matchup against the Courage.

Stranger things have happened. Unfortunately, they've only managed to draw FCKC this year, both home and away. Those four dropped points would have them in much stronger contention for the playoffs had they captured them earlier in the year. As it stands, the Reign will probably know before the game starts if they've been eliminated, as wins by both Chicago and Orlando will put both sides out of reach for the Reign regardless of next week's results.

FCKC has had an up and down season, but they recovered to mid table on strong performances in the middle part of the season. They've downed Portland, Chicago and Sky Blue in recent weeks, fell to Orlando and held Chicago to a draw on a rematch. If the season was 6 weeks longer, we might be talking about one of the better playoff pushes in memory. Unfortunately, there are just two weeks remaining, and only the Reign are in striking distance of an extended season. 

I think Seattle will probably be eliminated before the game begins, but if my upset special goes down as (un)expected in Houston, the Reign will still be alive on Sunday night. They'll fight on either way and give their home fans a proper sendoff on their last home match of the season.

Seattle Reign 3-1 FC Kansas City