NWSL Week 17: A Look Back

Abby Wambach

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By MIKE McCALL

With the races for first place and the playoffs drawing to a close, this weekend promised to deliver some answers in the National Women’s Soccer League, and it did.

One team was knocked out of contention, one slipped further from the postseason, and another gained two huge points that kept hope alive. And there was action at the top of the table too, as the best two squads battled for bragging rights.

For a closer look, here’s a complete rundown along with our updated Power Rankings.

RED STARS BURY REIGN

There was no drama this time for the Red Stars, as they rode goals from Sonja Fuss and Inka Grings (two) to notch a 3-1 win over the Reign.

Fuss opened the scoring with a penalty kick in the 11th minute, while Seattle’s Kaylyn Kyle equalized from the spot 17 minutes later. Just before the half, Grings put Chicago ahead and then delivered the final blow in the 72nd.

It was a massive victory for the Red Stars, who now sit five points out of the playoffs with three matches left. On the other side, the Reign are now mathematically eliminated — a mere formality given the long odds they were facing.

FLASH COMEBACK RESCUES A POINT

Chicago’s win would have loomed even larger if not for a late comeback by Western New York. Going head-to-head with playoff-hopeful Boston, the Flash conceded goals to Kyah Simon and Leanne Sanderson to trail 2-0 in the 65th minute. But Vicki DiMartino (77th minute) and Carli Lloyd (85th) came up huge to notch a 2-2 draw.

The tie preserved WNY’s seven-point lead over the Breakers, putting the Boston club in dire straits. Even if they manage a win over the Flash in the season finale, they’ll need more help, and in all likelihood, the Red Stars are the only bottom four team with a shot at the postseason now.

It was also a heartbreaking end to a tumultuous week for the Breakers, who fired coach Lisa Cole, lost assistant Maren Rojas and named defender Cat Whitehill as an interim player/coach on Friday.

SBFC BOUNCES BACK

Sky Blue FC’s tailspin has come to an end, at least for the moment. After going five straight games without a win, they got a visit from everyone’s favorite opponent, the Washington Spirit.

But despite their struggles, the Spirit didn’t go quietly, falling 1-0 thanks to SBFC forward Monica Ocampo’s goal in the 58th minute. That sealed a three-point evening that the New Jersey outfit needed badly.

The win pulled SBFC into a second place tie with Portland, which is almost certainly good enough for a playoff spot.

FCKC CRUISES IN PORTLAND

The first-place clash between FC Kansas City and the Portland Thorns produced the drama you’d expect, but in the end, the visitors notched a 3-2 win to extend their lead in the NWSL standings to four points.

FCKC’s Lauren Holiday (formerly Cheney) silenced an NWSL-record crowd of 17,619 at JELD-WEN Field with a goal in the 23rd minute. Portland answered with a Tobin Heath corner kick that Danielle Foxhoven finished in the 51st, but FCKC wasn’t done.

They tacked on two more via Holiday in the 55th and Kristie Mewis in the 74th, and Thorns star Alex Morgan set up a frenzied ending by finding the net in the 89th. With stoppage time played in front of raucous fans, Kansas City held on to emphatically lock up three points on the road.

SBI NWSL POWER RANKINGS

Here’s how they stand:

1. FC Kansas City (11-4-5, 38 pts) – Winning a five-goal match in front of a hostile, record-setting crowd was yet another statement that FCKC is the league’s best. | (Last week: 1)

2. Western NY Flash (8-4-7, 31 pts) – Big draw for the Flash, who showed the kind of fight they’ll need during a likely trip to the playoffs. | (2)

3. Portland Thorns FC (10-5-4, 34 pts) – A good effort at home, but Portland just doesn’t look champion-like. | (3)

4. Chicago Red Stars (7-7-5, 26 pts) – Still alive, which was all they could have asked for heading into the weekend. | (5)

5. Boston Breakers (6-7-6, 24 pts) – Blowing a two-goal lead against the Flash will go down as a major ‘what-if’ moment. | (4)

6. Sky Blue FC (10-6-4, 34 pts) – Safe and sound, SBFC needs to build some momentum into the postseason. | (7)

7. Seattle Reign FC (5-11-3, 18 pts) – Speaking of what-ifs, Seattle will spend the offseason wondering how far it could have gone if not for a disastrous start. | (6)

8. Washington Spirit (1-14-4, 7 pts) – Still the antidote for any struggling team. | (8)

What do you think? Can anyone stop FCKC? Any chance for Chicago? Disappointed in Portland?

Share your thoughts below.

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4 Responses to NWSL Week 17: A Look Back

  1. nate says:

    “Doesn’t look champion-like” is being pretty charitable. Portland is awful. They have more talent on that roster than any other three teams in the league and keep adding more (welcome Ms. Heath and Ms. Weimer), but it doesn’t matter because they play with zero team strategy. Cone so clearly has no idea what she’s doing. I’ve seen U-9 teams that don’t play as narrow as the Thorns. Since day one the sum total of team strategy has been forcing the ball to Alex Morgan, usually over the top. This actually worked for the first few weeks, but then teams (who actually have functional coaches) made adjustments, packing defenders around Morgan and daring the Thorns to keep trying to force the ball to her, and Portland has obliged. The addition of Heath has helped. This team would be totally lost without her and the revelation that has been Mana Shim. But Portland has thrown talented player after talented player at the problem but without any sort of team coherence or meaningful strategy it’s destined for futility.

    The lack of ability in the coach’s box has been evident from the beginning. From about the third game, I found myself asking, “If they win the league, can we still fire the coach?” Luckily, the way Portland is playing, it seems that won’t be a concern.

    • West of the Cascades says:

      Harsh. I was at the game on Sunday and have to say I agree with every word here. There’s also very little organization on defense, which has led to some soft goals (and putting keeper LeBlanc on the spot too often). It’s frustrating to watch our two teams here, the men getting outstanding results from superior coaching and modest talent, the women getting modest results from outstanding talent and mediocre coaching. Surely with all of the women who have gone through the University of Portland program there has to be some local managerial talent we could bring in for the Thorns next year??

  2. Darwin says:

    I keep reading this as NSWP Week X: A Look Back