[dropcap size=small]A[/dropcap]s Week 11 of the National Women’s Soccer League season comes to an end, all the teams have completed their first-half schedules and are moving on to the season’s second-half schedule. With only eight weeks left before the playoffs, some teams have started to look toward the business end of the season. For this week’s column, let’s break down what each team needs to do if they want to see themselves playing in the back end of August for the NWSL Championship title.
Safe, So Far
Seattle Reign (35 points)
So far the Seattle Reign have been the unbeatables this season, winning 11 of 13 matches and drawing the other two. They’ve answered each test they’ve faced this season: whether it was picking up their first clean sheet to winning without their national team players to finding ways to take points in matches when their backs are up against the wall. Watching head coach Laura Harvey’s side this season has been fun and they’ve started to pull out the party favors in recent matches, including this past week at Boston where they pulled off several dazzling moves forward against a beleaguered Breakers side. The only thing that can bring the team down at this point is taking the foot off the pedal heading toward the playoffs, something teams have done in the past knowing their lead on the rest of the league is in sure hands. If the Reign keep pace for the season’s second half, they’ll be in good shape.
FC Kansas City (27 points)
This time last year everyone was talking about FC Kansas City and how the team was rolling and doing everything right to get points. Well, as the weather heats up in the Heartland, so have the Blues. Kansas City are winners of their last five and unbeaten in their last seven, and find themselves in second place with a little bit of breathing room on the teams sitting in third through sixth place. They’re getting the goal production from the forwards and the duo of Lauren Holiday and Erika Tymrak are finding their forms from last year. Facing the Portland Thorns twice and Seattle Reign, Washington Spirit, Western New York Flash and Chicago Red Stars once more will be a rough final few weeks for Kansas City. But if they reverse the cooling-off trend from 2013, they should find their name in the playoff rounds this season.
All Jumbled Up
Chicago Red Stars (20 points)
The Chicago Red Stars are the wild card thrown into the mixture this year as a fair amount of people didn’t think they would be at this stage, even as late as a few weeks ago. But Rory Dames’s side has done a lot of things right to get to this point. Now, with the squad returning to full fitness and adding strikers Christen Press and Melissa Tancredi to the team for the rest of the season, they could be a dangerous team heading into the last few weeks of the season. Plus, this team showed last year they’re quite capable of pulling out results no matter the situation. That should be a discomforting feeling for teams that hold a slight edge points-wise over Chicago from this point forward
Portland Thorns (20 points, trail Chicago on goal difference)
Good news for Portland Thorns fans is that the squad has bounced back nicely after the 5-nil thrashing they received at home against the Western New York Flash back on June 7th and have won a home-and-home series against the Washington Spirit. Better news is that Alex Morgan is back in the side and scoring goals. Best news of all is Christine Sinclair is finding her nose for the goal again. For a team that has looked shaky at times this season, getting results like the 6-1 win against the Spirit this past weekend on the road will only help boost morale. Expect a rejuvenated side from Head Coach Paul Riley come the next few weeks as they face a tricky schedule against the Chicago Red Stars (three times) and FC Kansas City (twice) in a 23-day period.
Washington Spirit (19 points)
Well, Mark Parsons and Co. are certainly giving it quite a go for the homestretch and have made several roster moves in the past couples weeks. The Spirit saw the debuts of Niki Cross and Alex Singer over the weekend, two additions that should definitely help the back line down the stretch. Parsons also pulled off a major trade, scoring Lisa De Vanna from the Boston Breakers in exchange for Bianca Sierra and a draft pick. This move was made in mind more for the present than the future in the push for the playoffs, and if De Vanna regains the form she displayed with Sky Blue FC in the first half of 2013, the Spirit could be in serious business. This past week, however, was a step back for the Spirit after finding themselves on the wrong end of a 6-1 score line to the Portland Thorns. With three new players thrown into the fray this past week, the Spirit might chalk the result up to a getting-to-know-each-other phase. Fortunately for Washington, four of its next five matches come against teams in the bottom third of the table, albeit most on the road, and could prove to be crucial matches to get points from before the final stretch of the season begins.
Western New York Flash (17 points)
Time is starting to work against the Western New York Flash as they look to make their fourth consecutive postseason bid in a U.S. women’s soccer league as they are three points out of a playoff spot. Fortunately for the Flash, they’re in the middle of playing six home games in a seven-match stretch, including two home matches this week and into the next. The one thing we do know is the Flash have traditionally been a better team playing at Sahlen’s Stadium versus going on the road. The good news is Sam Kerr has been in great form, scoring four goals in her last four matches, and if Abby Wambach can regain full fitness in the coming weeks, that duo could be the difference between making and not making the playoffs.
The Bottom Third
The Houston Dash (13 points), Sky Blue (12 points) and Boston Breakers (10 points) round out the bottom three and there are plenty of things that need to happen for these teams to get back into the playoff picture. What these teams will hope to do in the upcoming weeks is to find a lineup that works, and start to chip away and get results because things can certainly change in a heartbeat. The best candidate that could break through could be the Dash, as they face Sky Blue and the Breakers two times each during the final eight weeks. Factor in the Texas heat and training in those conditions and can certainly help Randy Waldrum’s side in the long run as other teams could falter in the hot weather during matches.
With national team players out the past couple of weeks on international duty, it was always going to be interesting to see the amateur call-ups each teams would make. One of those players was former Chicago Red Star Michele Weissenhofer, back in action this past week as she featured against the Western New York Flash last Wednesday. The Weissenhofer flip throw was alive and well for one night.
The big upcoming match is the Portland Thorns traveling to FC Kansas City next Saturday night. The Thorns host Sky Blue FC in the midweek match and if they win, this match could become a major talking for both sides in their quests for a home match in the playoffs.
NWSL Broadcaster Reports and Rankings. Not to fear folks, we’ll have something in this column sooner rather than you think (meanwhile, I will continue to accept bribes until then).
Seattle Reign goalkeeper Hope Solo didn’t play in this past weekend’s match against the Western New York Flash. Solo was arrested early Saturday morning and charged with two counts of fourth-degree domestic-violence assault after police were called to her sister’s home in Kirkland, Washington. On Monday, Solo pleaded not guilty to both charges and was released on her own recognizance. Her next court appearance will be on August 11, 2014.
The Reign released the following:
We are aware of the situation with Hope and are now gathering information. We do not have any additional information to share at this time.