NWSL COG 6: Cinco de Football

Here we go again with bonus Wednesday football. Actually, you should get used to this, because Wednesdays are going to be a regular part of this month's action. We get started with two of the six sides that had to settle for frustrating draws last weekend. The Pride head to Chicago looking for just their second win having played five. Chicago will hope to take all the points to stay within reasonable striking distance of the imperious NC Courage at the top of the table.

As of Wednesday, we only had sufficient info (read: injury reports) to make characteristically terrible predictions for just the one game, so we started with just the one preview. Naturally, I got that one all wrong! Now there's time to finish writing up the worst predictions available for all the rest of the games!

Related, but perhaps not quite so awful at predictions:

What Happened in COG 5?

Draws. Lots and lots of draws. The NC Courage took the weekend's only win, defeating the Houston Dash at home 2-0. Then it was all draws, all the time. Chicago 1-1 Washington. Orlando 1-1 Seattle. Utah 1-1 Portland. That didn't do anybody any favors as they try to keep up with the Courage, but with most teams now back to full strength, the more positive results should start to come. Maybe not against the Courage so often, but there's always a chance.

There was a "collision" this weekend, but a review of the incident yielded no discipline. You be the judge:

Orlando Pride at Chicago Red Stars

Wednesday at 7:30PM Eastern on Go90

Getting close to must-win time already for Orlando?

Getting close to must-win time already for Orlando?

I'd have thought both sides would have won their matches last weekend. Actually, I did pick both sides to win. But neither could finish, and it was 1-1 for both teams. Both teams struggled a bit to find a rhythm with their returning superstars; Marta's wonder-strike came on a free kick. But most of the Brazilian, Japanese and Australian players had only been present for a few days of training. It's not going to take long for Sam Kerr to find her own way back to the highlight reel.

So this match is one Orlando really needs to find a way to win. They're sitting sixth on the table and Sky Blue has two games in hand back in 9th. However, two rather important names have popped up on the "Questionable" list: Alex Morgan with a hyperextended left knee, and Ashlyn Harris with a hyperextended left elbow. If either can't go, it might make enough of a difference to push this one in Chicago's favor. However, Emily van Egmond's high-impact substitute performance last week gives the Pride another look should they be short handed up top.

For the home side, there aren't any surprises on the injury report. They will have to play again on Sunday away at the Courage, and taking points there is never easy. So it's possible they'll consider the Pride an easier opponent and manage a few player's minutes accordingly. 

I'm torn on this one, but these teams feel pretty even to me. That means we're overdue for a blowout, but I'm going to call this one yet another draw that both sides will dislike.

Chicago Red Stars 2-2 Orlando Pride

UPDATE: Ha ha. Wrong again. Only the Pride found the goal twice, blanking Chicago at home. That doesn't bode well for Chicago as they head south (perhaps both literally and figuratively) on Sunday. 

Seattle Reign at Portland Thorns

Saturday at 3:30PM Eastern on Lifetime


Bad news for fans of a nice Cascadian rivalry: Rapinoe is not yet fit, and Jasmyne Spencer is out of the Reign lineup for an excused absence. Can Seattle find some offense? So far, it hasn't quite come together without the irreplaceable 'Pinoe pulling the strings. See also: USWNT at the Olympics in Brazil and, well, most places Rapinoe features. Seattle has a chance here, but they'll need to avoid mistakes to get out of Portland with points.

Portland's Klingenberg and Menges are both questionable, so there may be some space to attack the flanks if neither player can start. This will require an extra dose of Sonnett to cover, so it’s now time to reveal her theme song (at least as I hear it in my head when she gets riled up).

Unless you're an "old" like me, thereby feeling required to offset words like "old" in a sentence with quotations and prone to using conjunctive adverbs such as "thereby," you may be unfamiliar with the Sonnett theme song. But give it a shot. It's time to Jump, Jive an' Wail (or in Sonnett's case, Jump, Dive and Wail). Mind you, I intend the "dive" portion to refer to precisely-timed tackles, not to flopping.

If I had time, I'd work up a sweet clip video of Sonnett jumpin', divin', and wailin' to this song. But that would rob you of the opportunity to use your imagination, and why would I do that to you?

Anyway, I'm picking the Thorns at home on the big Lifetime broadcast, unless a certain not-at-all-famous woman by the name of “FISHLOCKER” makes some amazing things happen. She might. As sure as her name is “FISHLOCKER.” *facepalm*

Portland Thorns 2-1 Seattle Reign

Houston Dash at Sky Blue FC

Saturday at 7PM Eastern on Go90


It’s just game four for Sky Blue. They're consequently still a bit of a mystery, but we can probably agree that a home game against a team that has scored on themselves as often as on their opponents through five games gives them a pretty good chance to grab their first win.

Savannah McCaskill has been everything expected when Sky Blue drafted her this year. Wait, what's that? Sky Blue didn't draft her? Oh right, something about a team folding a week after the draft and their season ticket holders still not getting refunds. Sounds familiar:

So anyway, McCaskill landed in New Jersey courtesy of the DISTRIBUTION draft, and she's looked quite good. Since you've only had a few brief opportunities, you should watch this match and track the South Carolina product when she's off the ball. She's always moving around to provide an outlet, and frequently (if you dare pause the Go90 feed) can be seen in positions that would give a one-touch outlet to a teammate who'd receive a pass from the ball handler in addition to being in space to receive the first pass. This bonkers field awareness was in evidence during her USWNT minutes as well, and once her club side finds its rhythm, is going to help them be devastating both in creating and sustaining attacks. 

Houston, however, has got some problems. Last week, Linda Motlhalo continued to try to play after suffering what seemed a certain injury to her knee. She was left in the game until she essentially couldn't go anymore, and now is listed as out with a sprain to that right knee. So, that takes away what had been a bit of offensive energy. The bright side is that Kyah Simon might be able to get more involved on attack. As Ohai continues to look more and more confident in her return from ACL purgatory, there might just be some reason for optimism in Dash country. 

The Dash looked really good in their first match against Chicago and deserved to win. Sky Blue hasn't looked as good as Chicago so far (though the Red Stars have played twice as many games). Unfortunately, the Dash haven't looked anywhere near as good after week 1. They'll feel they need this win more than Sky Blue, but it's hard to make a case for them getting it done on the road. They'll stay winless in New Jersey, giving up another late goal.

Sky Blue FC 2-1 Houston Dash

Washington Spirit at Utah Royals

Saturday at 9PM Eastern on Go90


Will Cinco de Mayo (and/or Derby Day) be the lucky day for the Royals? Can they get their first ever home win at the expense of the Washington Spirit? So far, they've played a lot like the FCKC team that they used to be, with a slice of the Boston Breakers side that had a knack for draws. Seriously, Utah has four draws in five matches. That's awfully close, and Laura Harvey won't have any illusions about what she's got to do to get them over the hump to turn close games into wins. 

Of course, every team wants to win, and the Spirit have only found a way to 3 points once this season. That was a March 31st home thumping of a depleted Orlando Pride squad. Since then, it's been an ugly loss to the Courage and encouraging draws at the Thorns and home vs the Red Stars. It's cliche to call a team "young," but for all the exuberance of Washington's play, they haven't been able to convert positive stretches of play into complete game performances. Yet. 

So, no offense to the Spirit, but I'm going to sentimentally pick the Royals at home until they get their first victory. In this instance, I think it's a reasonable choice. Becky Sauerbrunn won't be surprised at anything Mal Pugh or Andi Sullivan tries to do, and Utah has a physically larger, more physical team in general. RioT gets a win!

Utah Royals 3-1 Washinton Spirit

Chicago Red Stars at NC Courage

Sunday at 3PM Eastern on Go90

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 11.51.17 AM.jpg

Julie Ertz is questionable with a back strain for this one, and Chicago will be desperately hoping that she's ready for action against the best midfield in the league. Ertz's physicality might be the only way to find a way past McCall Zerboni and fully-fit Sam Mewis. Huerta and Colaprico looked almost helpless against the fast-passing Pride midfield mid-week, and they'll be tired from having played Wednesday and their travel to NC. Not a great recipe for success.

However, this Chicago side has had pretty good knack at staying close in games and finding ways to get results five out of seven times so far this season. Those two losses came at the hands of Portland and Orlando—both teams with speedy physical midfields. That's exactly what they're up against on Sunday in North Carolina.

The Courage are cruising, and are on pace to qualify for the playoffs next weekend. OK, no, not really—but it sure seems that way. They do lots of little things very well, and it's largely due to a very consistent squad of above-average players. The more you play together, the more you know what to expect from one another. Some of these pieces (such as the Zerboni / Mewis midfield and Riley / Vallow coaching pair) have been together since this was the Western NY Flash in the 2016 season. Consistency is a winning strategy, if you can figure out how to build it. 

That's all too much for the Red Stars, and the Courage win this one at home.

NC Courage 3-1 Chicago Red Stars