TWO games on Wednesday? Plus FOUR games on Saturday?!? Who hit the jackpot? All of us. All. Of. Us. (This sounds vaguely familiar... hmmm...)
As with our other split weeks, let's look at the Wednesday matchups first. After we get the injury report on Friday, I'll get the others up and ready.
Meanwhile, there's been a bit more BREAKERING NEWS on the "how long will it take to get Breakers fans their season ticket and pre-paid camp money back for the team evaporating into the ether" question. Make sure to read the fine print.
What Happened in COG 6?
I couldn't really have done much worse last week in the prognosticating department. For Wednesday's tilt I predicted a 2-2 draw. Nope. Orlando came into Chicago on a mission and took all three points home with them back to Florida with a 2-0 win. I guessed Portland 2-1 Seattle, but the Reign found a groove even without Megan Rapinoe and shocked the home team with a 3-2 road win. I though we'd see Sky Blue FC hold court at home, but the Dash spoiled the narrative, putting 3 goals in the net and only surrendering 2 to collect their first win. Across the country, the Royals also got their first win, a 2-0 defeat of the Washington Spirit (Hey I got one right!). But then the same Red Stars who'd been skunked at home on Wednesday night went down to North Carolina and earned a 1-1 draw, not cooperating with my expected 3-1 loss prediction.
Can I go a perfect 0-6 this week? Only one way to find out.
Portland Thorns at Houston Dash
Wednesday at 8PM Eastern on Go90
Houston is probably better than their record, but then so too is Portland. At the beginning of the year, would you have guessed that through twelve combined games, these teams would only have three wins between them? Surely the Thorns would have earned at least three wins from six, right? But it's been a strange first part of the year for many teams. Only North Carolina has looked reliably strong in every outing. But what should we expect on Wednesday night?
There weren't any surprises on the injury report for either team. Houston will be feeling good after having won on the road. They'll want to surprise the Thorns with their improved play and get on the board early in a bid to grab their first home win. Portland has looked a bit vulnerable, especially on set pieces, and though Britt Eckerstrom has been good—she hasn't made the types of stops that AD Franch has spoiled everyone into thinking were normal. That hasn't changed Portland's strategy of attacking with what feels like as many as nine players, but the consequences have been that they're vulnerable on defense and can't have confidence that Franch will bail out anyone who isn't able to get back to defend by making a killer save.
It's taken a bit of time, but Houston is looking more like the team that almost beat Chicago in week one. Janine van Wyk has her back line working well together, which has allowed the team to push further up the field and connect better in more dangerous positions. Kyah Simon's quality hasn't always been evident in the NWSL, but she's a plus player when she's healthy and she's looking pretty healthy. Rachel Daly's industry is going to give her more than one goal at some point this year. There might be something good brewing in Houston, and it's no secret that it is a difficult venue to visit in the heat of the summer.
I think Portland is just going to be too much for Houston to handle right now, but if they can't win against the Dash, is it time to start to wonder about this year's Thorns? Would it be panic time?
Houston Dash 1-2 Portland Thorns
UPDATE! This ended 1-1, so I was wrong again. I guess that's not really an update—more a continuation of the status quo. However, we've now got a gallery of great pictures up from that match, so at least that's a plus.
Orlando Pride at Utah Royals
Wednesday at 9PM Eastern on Go90
This one is tough. Nobody was going to stop the Royals last weekend. But might Washington have been a little too highly regarded? They're another team with only one win, after all.
Certainly the Red Stars are a better squad than the Spirit, and they weren't able to do anything against Orlando a week ago. The Pride should have Alex Morgan back to full fitness, which doesn't bode well for the Royals. Additionally, Orlando has Monica listed as questionable with a left adductor strain. She was a huge part of the solid core that shut down Sam Kerr and friends, so losing her wouldn't be optimal.
For their part, Utah won't have Elise Thorsnes due to her left hamstring strain, and that's also a blow. But not one they don't have the depth to overcome. Eventually, it's going to be interesting to see if the Royals defense and midfield can stop Marta from being, well, Marta. And they'll also have to contend with the excellent Emily Van Egmond and her evidently fully-revolving ankles that are capable of launching no-look passes in any direction regardless of the midfielder's own trajectory. Seriously, watch her pass the ball. It's bonkers.
Oh, but let's not forget that the Royals can also produce some offense:
I can't convince myself of a winner here, so I'm calling a draw.
Utah Royals 2-2 Orlando Pride
UPDATE: My draw prediction was correct, but somehow this one ended up without any scoring.
Orlando Pride at Portland Thorns
Saturday at 3:30PM Eastern on Lifetime TV
The Pride have a fast turnaround in order as they continue their road trip with a stop in Portland after having been in Utah on Wednesday. Wednesday's match was difficult, but Utah and Portland play dramatically different styles, so it will be hard to extrapolate much from the Pride's inability to get on the scoresheet mid-week and apply it to this afternoon. The Thorns were also on the road on Wednesday, and they also had to fly home and get ready to play on short rest, so the sides should be fairly level on energy.
Alex Morgan took an awkward tumble with Utah's Katrina Gorry on Wednesday night (yes, OK, Gorry yanked Morgan down by her jersey), in which she landed on her shoulder and stayed down for a few minutes. When the game resumed, she was in obvious discomfort and held her arm close to her torso as though it was held there by a sling. So, it was a relief to see that she was listed as questionable on the injury report with a left shoulder sprain and not a fractured collarbone. Monica is also questionable with her left adductor strain.
The Thorns don't have any surprises on their report other than that Meghan Klingenberg is out due to "personal reasons."
We've reached the point in the season where these draws aren't good enough for teams that fancy themselves strong playoff contenders. Not to sound repetitive, but would anyone have guessed these sides would only have a combined four wins from 14 games? At the current pace, they're both on track for seven win seasons. Considering the Thorns won 14 and the Pride won 11 last year, this isn't encouraging news for fans of either team.
I'll reserve judgment on the long-term consequences of this draw-heavy season for now. After all, despite having only two wins apiece, only Seattle and North Carolina have collected more than two to date. So really, every team is still alive in the playoff hunt for now.
The Lifetime game should be close, but I'll give the edge to the Thorns at home. As it turns out, their last win came at Orlando's expense back on April 15th at Providence Park. I think they can repeat that performance this afternoon.
Portland Thorns 2-1 Orlando Pride
Washington Spirit at North Carolina Courage
Saturday at 7PM Eastern on Go90
This one sure feels lopsided. North Carolina hasn't lost all year, and I can't see them learning what a loss feels like following this home game vs the Spirit. Their last matchup, played a month ago in Maryland, ended 4-2 in favor of the Courage. Has anything changed since then?
Well, for the Spirit, there were two encouraging draws at Portland and Chicago. But maybe those weren't so impressive? Yes, Chicago and Portland are 3 and 4 on the table, but again, they've each just got one more win than the single-win Spirit.
For North Carolina, a bad day earns a draw. They've won five of their first seven matches and are once again at home for this one. They'll want to take advantage of the friendly surrounds, as they're on the road at Sky Blue, Orlando, Portland and Houston before returning home again on June 16th. Granted, both of the Courage's draws have come at home, so they're not intimidated by playing on the road. They're not intimidated anywhere, really. That's because they're easily the best team in the league so far. They get the win and remain the class of the league.
NC Courage 3-1 Washington Spirit
Houston Dash at Chicago Red Stars
Saturday at 8PM Eastern on Go90
What can we make of these two teams? I gave a big mea culpa a few weeks ago having doubted the Red Stars, and expressing how impressed I'd been with their recent run of play. That was evidently the kiss of death, as they followed that up with bleak draws against Sky Blue and the Spirit, a loss to Orlando, and then (finally) showed some renewed life last weekend in a draw at the Courage.
Chicago is getting healthier, and will have former Breaker and NZ International Rosie White available for the first time this year. It will probably take some time for her to get into form, but she can be a high impact piece in the Red Stars midfield as the season moves along. Julie Ertz is back and healthy, so that's obviously another big plus.
Houston got an offensive spark from another former Breaker on Wednesday: Kyah Simon. The Australian slotted a shot across Britt Eckerstrom's goal and earned the Dash a home draw vs the Thorns. Houston could have had more, but they played so open and struggled to connect passes to attacking players or keep possession. There's room for optimism, but I don't think it's enough to get a result against the Red Stars on the road.
Chicago Red Stars 2-1 Houston Dash
Sky Blue FC at Seattle Reign
Saturday at 10PM Eastern on Go90
Seattle impressively kept up their solid start even while Megan Rapinoe was out injured. They went into Portland and collected a 3-2 win against their rivals last week on unfriendly ground. But Rapinoe is back now, and Seattle will beneifit from knowing that they're solid even without her. That's an improvement over last year.
Sky Blue is still looking for their first win, but it's hard to imagine it coming on a road game against the Reign. They've only managed one draw all year, and that came at the Red Stars during Chicago's odd slump. I don't think they'll look as bad for the whole season, but they're going to have trouble doing much against a vastly superior Reign squad tonight.
Seattle Reign 3-1 Sky Blue FC