By SARAH HALLETT
As teams move into the second half of the National Women’s Soccer League, the same question remains but becomes much more urgent: Who can catch up to undefeated Seattle Reign FC?
Second-placed FC Kansas City will be looking to find three points and close that gap as they play host to the Portland Thorns FC this weekend. Portland had the biggest win in their club history last weekend and then promptly dropped a home match against Sky Blue FC on Wednesday night. Portland forward Alex Morgan is coming off a quiet game after having surged in her return from injury, so expect Morgan to seek some revenge on FC Kansas City this weekend.
Meanwhile, the Washington Spirit will travel to Houston to take on the well-rested Houston Dash. The Dash have enjoyed a two-week break, but are winners of three of their past four matches. It should be a tough battle between the two squads, as the Spirit will be looking for their first win since the beginning of the month.
The Western New York Flash will need to figure out a way to win some games without veteran forward Abby Wambach, who will miss at least three more weeks as she rehabs a knee injury she suffered on May 31. The Flash have lost four out of their past six games without Wambach and hardly resemble the team that played in the championship game last season. They will not get a better opportunity to pick up three points than this weekend, when they take on the lowly Boston Breakers.
Here’s a closer look at this weekend’s NWSL fixtures:
BOSTON BREAKERS at WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH (Friday at 7:30pm ET - watch live)
The Western New York Flash have an opportunity to take three points from the worst team in the league when they host the Boston Breakers on Friday night. But it has been an inconsistent month for the Flash. The club gave up two late goals against Seattle Reign FC last Sunday and missed out on the opportunity to hand Seattle their first loss of the season. Instead, the loss handed the Flash sole possession of sixth place.
The Flash have recently signed Australian defender Tiegen Allen, who should make her second appearance for the Flash on Friday. Fellow Aussies Sam Kerr and Lydia Williams have been key players for the Flash and Allen will add some depth to the back line for the squad.
The Boston Breakers continue to search for a spark to their offense. The Breakers have one of the best goalkeepers in the league with Alyssa Naeher, but their inability to score goals has overshadowed just how well Naeher as played for the Boston club.
PORTLAND THORNS FC at FC KANSAS CITY (Saturday at 8pm ET - watch live)
The Portland Thorns had appeared to have turned the corner with their 6-1 win against the Washington Spirit on Saturday night. Then they returned home and suffered another loss to lower-tier Sky Blue FC on Wednesday night. Now the Thorns need to quickly regroup after the midweek loss as they head to FC Kansas City, who have yet to drop any points on their home pitch.
FC Kansas City has a strong hold on second place in the league and should be at full strength for the match. Though the team sits eight points behind the Seattle Reign FC, a playoff spot seems all but assured for the Blues.
Portland may be without their captain Christine Sinclair on Saturday night. Sinclair landed awkwardly on her right ankle towards the end of the Sky Blue FC game and although she did not leave the match, she was visibly in a lot of pain. Sinclair scored the lone goal for the Thorns and Portland fans will have their fingers crossed that she will be full-strength against the Blues.
WASHINGTON SPIRIT at THE HOUSTON DASH (Saturday at 9pm ET - watch live)
The Washington Spirit have dropped three games in a row, most notably an embarrassing 6-1 loss to the Portland Thorns FC a week ago. The Spirit will be looking to rebound against the Dash on Saturday night and need to find a way to score some goals. The Spirit have only scored two goals in the last four games and have been equally inconsistent on the defensive end of the game. The team did pick up a few players in the past few weeks, which should help the fifth place team make a playoff run. Defender Niki Cross joins the team from FC Bayern Munich and forward Lisa De Vanna was recently acquired from the Boston Breakers.
The Dash enter the second half of their season looking to make their own push for the playoffs. Though the team has only won four games this season-they only sit seven points outside of fourth place, with the top four teams earning playoff berths. A win at home this weekend against the Spirit could prove to be the catalyst this team needs for a second half run.
SKY BLUE FC at SEATTLE REIGN FC (Saturday at 9pm ET - watch live)
Sky Blue FC will continue their west coast road trip on Saturday night in Seattle against the first place club. A full twenty points separate the two teams, but Sky Blue FC defeated a talented Portland Thorns FC team on Wednesday night and will be full of confidence against Seattle.
The Seattle Reign FC have spent the past week dealing with off-field issues concerning the arrest of their star goalkeeper Hope Solo. In a statement Thursday, Reign FC said Solo will be available for this weekend’s game and the club will reserve any action against Solo until her trial. It’s unclear if Solo will indeed play, but it would be a surprise to see the Reign FC drop points in this match, even without their star keeper. Sky Blue has failed to consistently threaten even teams lower on the table and Reign handled the past two games without Solo just fine.