By MIKE McCALL
With 13 matches between this weekend and May 25, it’s time for teams to start separating themselves in the National Women’s Soccer League standings.
Four weeks in, a few have looked to be a cut above, and we should learn plenty more with all eight teams in action on Saturday and Sunday.
Before we jump into a preview, two stories of note from this week.
First, Western New York Flash midfielder Carli Lloyd is back after missing more than two months with a broken shoulder. That’s great news for both club and country, as the Flash and U.S. both stand to gain from her veteran attacking presence in midfield.
Secondly, Sky Blue FC showed signs of slowing down during a midweek matchup with the Chicago Red Stars. SBFC’s season got off to a surprising start that has landed them in a tie for second, but tying one of the league’s two worst teams at home wasn’t the mark of a title contender. Both teams scored in the final 10 minutes, with SBFC’s Sophie Schmidt getting her third of the year before substitute Alyssa Mautz brought Chicago level.
Now, on to this week’s matchups:
WASHINGTON SPIRIT vs. BOSTON BREAKERS (Saturday, 7 pm)
These teams opened the season with one of the most exciting finishes of the year so far, as Boston’s Sydney Leroux bagged a stoppage-time equalizer to clinch a 1-1 draw. Since then, their fortunes have gone opposite directions.
Washington (0-2-2) returned from that trip for a four-game homestand, coming away with another 1-1 tie and a pair of 2-1 losses. Meanwhile, the Breakers (2-0-1) have won two straight to put themselves in a tie for second place, and they’re coming off a 4-1 demolition of Chicago in which Leroux scored the first hat trick in league history.
Stopping Leroux is obviously the first task for the Spirit, who have proven surprisingly leaky at the back with six goals allowed in four games. Meanwhile, they’ll look to Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson for another strong performance, as she’s riding a three-game goal streak.
SKY BLUE FC vs. SEATTLE REIGN (Saturday, 7 pm)
Does Sky Blue FC (2-1-1) belong in the discussion of NWSL heavyweights? Part of that answer relies on their ability to put away the bottom-feeders, and they’ll get another chance to do that this weekend against last-place Seattle (0-3-1).
If the Red Stars aren’t the worst team at this early stage, it’s the Reign, and having two straight home games against those teams should be a gift for SBFC’s point total. Drawing Chicago was an okay result as long as they put away Seattle.
The Reign, meanwhile, are desperate to get out of the NWSL basement. They got caught napping on the sofa while everyone else moved upstairs (Portland is chilling on the roof), and it’s about time they joined the party.
WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH vs. FC KANSAS CITY (Saturday, 7:35 pm)
Will Lloyd play? She says she’s “ready to go” and was cleared by doctors this week, but it’s probably a bit much to expect a full match from her just yet. At any rate, it’s good news for the Flash (1-2-1), who are recovering from a sluggish start and notched their first win last week.
On the other side, FC Kansas City (2-0-1) has looked sharp, led by talented young forward Renae Cuellar, who has scored in all three games. Between her and the Flash’s Abby Wambach, there’s reason to expect goals and a solid clash between an expected title contender and a team that has earned that label on the field thus far.
CHICAGO RED STARS vs. PORTLAND THORNS (Sunday, 5 pm)
NWSL’s Death Star travels to Chicago this week for another shot at the Red Stars, in a rematch of a fixture held two weeks ago that the Thorns won 2-0.
This one brings a chance for the league leaders to stretch their win streak to four, while the home side comes in off short rest but with a little wind in its sails. That 1-1 draw with Sky Blue FC on Wednesday gave the Red Stars their second point of the season and moved them out of a tie for last place, and they have a chance to build some serious momentum with an upset of Alex Morgan & Co.
Can Washington get a win? Think the Flash flex their muscle or FCKC keeps it rolling? Any chance of a Chicago-Portland upset?
Share your thoughts below.