NWSL Preview Week 17: Washington Spirit hopes to extend lead

nwsl preview week 13

by TOM SLATER

The calendar has turned to September — the final month of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season.

League parity has dominated this summer and as the final four games of the season remain for all 10 teams, there is still plenty to play for.

Western New York Flash at Washington Spirit, Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m.: Washington (11-3-2, 35 points) have won three straight matches to lengthen their lead in the NWSL standings to six points. The Spirit have won six of their last seven matches.

The Spirit are the deepest team in the NWSL and have been led by a slew of different players through the summer. Christine Nairn is the latest heroine. The midfielder has three goals in the last two games with game-winners in both. The Spirit come into the contest on the cusp of securing a spot in the postseason for a third straight year after finishing last in the league’s inaugural season in 2013. Washington will clinch a playoff spot Saturday night with a win or a draw against Western New York.

Even if the Spirit lose to the Flash, Washington will still qualify for the playoffs if Seattle Reign FC lose or draw versus the Red Stars in a match that kicks off at the same time on Saturday.

The Flash (8-5-3, 27 points) have slid to fourth place in the standings. They have not won since July 9 when they beat Seattle, 3-2, on the narrow pitch at Frontier Field in Rochester. With scoring threats Lynn Williams (8 goals) and Jess McDonald (7 goals), the Flash can score virtually at any time.

Orlando Pride at Houston Dash, Saturday, Sept. 3, 8:30 p.m.: Both teams are on the verge of being eliminated from the NWSL playoff picture.

Orlando has beaten Houston all three times this year. It will need a win to guarantee not being eliminated this weekend.

Kristen Edmonds and Jasmyne Spencer have been the catalysts this year for the Pride. Orlando will also have its international players back including Alex Morgan. The Pride (6-10-0, 18 points) also signed Lisa De Vanna, an Australian international who has played for three teams in a previous stint in the NWSL. The Dash (4-8-4, 16 points) enter the match also facing the prospect of elimination from the playoffs.

Coach Randy Waldrum’s side were able to hold off being mathematically eliminated Wednesday with a 3-1 road victory over the Boston Breakers as Kealia Ohai scored twice and midfielder Carli Lloyd added a goal in her post-Olympics return to the NWSL.

Ohai comes into the contest Saturday carrying a four-game scoring streak and with all seven of her goals this season coming in the last six games.

Boston Breakers at Portland Thorns FC, Sunday, Sept. 4, 7 p.m.: Portland Thorns were once fighting for first place in the NWSL. Now they are slumping and holding on to second place for dear life.

Portland (8-3-5, 29 points) fell to rival Seattle last week, 3-1, and have dropped three of its last four games. Allie Long had the lone goal for the Thorns. It was her first of the year against 10 a year ago. The Thorns should be helped by the return of their international players.

The Breakers (3-12-1, 10 points) will take the field on the heels of a 3-1 loss to the Houston Dash on Wednesday as they fell short of winning three straight games for the first time in club history. Forward Natasha Dowie scored for the second time in three matches, but only as a late consolation.

Boston has now won back-to-back games on three separate occasions in their history in the NWSL but is the only team in the league to not claim three straight victories at any point.

Seattle Reign at Chicago Red Stars, Sunday, September 4, 7 p.m.: Chicago Red Stars have gone from a team just barely holding on to the fourth playoff spot to a team ready to make a move for second-place and a home match in the opening round of the playoffs.

Seattle, on the other hand, has vaulted itself into contention with a big win last week.

The Red Stars (8-4-4, 28 points) beat Sky Blue, 3-1, to jump into third place, just one point from second place Portland. Christen Press, Sofia Huerta and Stephanie McCaffery all are offensive threats with Vanessa DiBernardo holding down the midfield, Arin Gilliland anchoring the back and Alyssa Naeher solid in goal.

Chicago now has a four-game unbeaten streak — the longest active streak in the NWSL.

The Reign (6-5-5, 23 points) won big over Portland, 3-1. Forward Manon Melis scored twice and Megan Rapinoe added a goal of her own to lead the back-to-back NWSL Shield holders to the win.

Goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer made six saves in the match and coach Laura Harvey will be looking to her for more strong performances after Hope Solo informed the club this week she would not return for the remainder 2016 season.

Melis now stands with five goals on the season – tied for fourth in the league – with four of the tallies coming in the last four games.

Chicago carries a five-game unbeaten run against the Reign into the match that dates back to the 2014 season. The Red Stars have never lost a home game to the Reign with a 3-0-1 record when they host Seattle.