NWSL Week 11: Stingy Seattle defense visits high-scoring Western New York

seattle week 12

By TOM SLATER

The stingiest defense in the league will host the most electric offense as Week 12 unfolds in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

The Seattle Reign, with its rock solid defense, will travel cross country Saturday to face the Western New York Flash with its high-scoring duo of Jessica MacDonald and Lynn Williams.

Lauren Barnes and her fellow defenders – Rachel Corsie, Kendall Fletcher and Elli Reed – helped lead the Reign to a 2-0 victory over the Boston Breakers in Week 11 as Seattle recorded their fifth-straight shutout.

The five consecutive clean sheets is a league record in and of itself, but it also extended the Reign’s shutout streak to 493 minutes – two minutes shy of the NWSL record established by the Chicago Red Stars earlier this season. That means if the Reign and goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer are able to hold the league’s No. 1 offense off the scoreboard for the first three minutes Saturday night, Seattle will take the mantle as the team with the longest shutout streak in league history.

So far the earliest goal coach Laura Harvey’s side has allowed this season was in the 12th minute to Orlando Pride forward Alex Morgan. Harvey and the Reign know that they are facing a team in Western New York that is averaging 2.0 goals per game so far this season – something only two squads (Seattle in 2014 and 2015) have been able to manage for an entire season in NWSL history.

More important for Seattle than the record will be securing all three points as the back-to-back NWSL Shield holders look to get themselves back in the playoff picture. To that end, the Reign will be looking for another strong performance from NWSL Player of the Week Nahomi Kawasumi – who scored twice in her season debut to pace Seattle to the victory against the Breakers.

The Japan international will be particularly important as her team looks to snap a four-game scoreless run away from home – one shy of the league record shared by Boston and the Washington Spirit.

Harvey will also want to see a continued sharpness from Kopmeyer, who made three saves against Boston to help preserve the Reign’s shutout streak.

Seattle will be dealing with a decidedly different offense Saturday night than the one they faced last week. Whereas the Reign were able to heap more misery on what is currently the league’s worst-ever offense (0.27 goals against average) in the Boston Breakers. The Flash come into the contest having just established a new NWSL record for the most goals (19) scored during a six-game span.

Forwards McDonald and Williams have been the catalysts for that offensive explosion – with McDonald recording three goals and two assists in the last two games alone and Williams scoring six times in the last six games.

McDonald comes into the game with five goals and three assists on the season, while Williams leads the league in scoring.

In other matches:

SATURDAY, JULY 9

Chicago Red Stars at Washington Spirit: With several internationals missing from both sides Saturday night, the Red Stars will look to their contingent of players just outside the national-team picture for the United States – including Vanessa DiBernardo, fellow midfielder Danielle Colaprico as well as players such as defender Arin Gilliland – to stop a two-game losing skid after Chicago suffered a 2-0 setback against the Western New York Flash in Week 11.

Washington and Chicago occupy the final two playoff spots.

The loss was not only their second in a row, but their second-straight defeat by that score line for coach Rory Dames’ team following an eight-match unbeaten run.

The Red Stars are one of just two teams (along with the Flash) in NWSL history to have never lost three straight matches.

The Spirit come into the game on the heels of a 2-0 victory over FC Kansas City in Week 11 – with Ordega netting the second game-winning goal of her NWSL career. Midfielder Tori Huster added an insurance tally for her first goal of the year.

Goalkeeper Kelsey Wys picked up her first shutout of the season on the back of a five-save performance against the Blues and coach Jim Gabarra will be looking for more of the same as Washington prepares to be without Canada international goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe as she prepares for the 2016 Rio Olympics with her national side.

The match is the last of four straight home games for the Spirit, who are 2-1-0 on the current home stand and are 4-1-1 at Maryland SoccerPlex this season. Gabarra will want to see his defense continue to perform at the level they have through their first six home matches.

Washington brings the No. 1 home defense into the match Saturday with defenders such as Megan Oyster and Estelle Johnson who have helped the Spirit to a 0.33 goals against average in front of their own fans this year.

FC Kansas City at Portland Thorns:  Dagny Brynjarsdottir has scored in each of the last two games – including a comeback 2-1 victory over Sky Blue FC in Week 11 – to take her total to four goals on the season as the Thorns extended their unbeaten run to 12 games.

Portland sits atop of the NWSL table. Already the owners of the second-longest streak without a loss in league history, Portland currently stands four games shy of matching the all-time record held by Pacific Northwest rivals Seattle Reign FC – who the Thorns will face twice in the next four matches.

Brynjarsdottir, who the Thorns picked up in an offseason trade with the Boston Breakers, scored in the 38th minute to level the score against SBFC before Nadia Nadim stroked home her fourth goal of the season as well when she converted from the penalty spot in the 62nd minute.

The comeback win was the second in row for Portland, who have rallied for a league-best three victories after trailing this season. In all, the Thorns have recovered 10 points from losing positions this season – seven more than any other team in the NWSL.

On the other side of the ball Saturday night will be a FC Kansas City side looking to regain their stride as the seek to defend their back-to-back league titles.

The champions saw a four-match unbeaten streak ended in Week 11 at the hands of the Washington Spirit with a 2-0 loss as the Blues were scored on in the second half for the first time in seven games.

Nicole Barnhart made six saves in the match – including five after halftime – but was unable to keep FCKC from falling to their fifth loss in just the 11th game of the year. Put in perspective, FC Kansas City has lost six (2015), seven (2014) and six (2013) matches in the previous three entire seasons.

Coach Vlatko Andonovski’s side come into the game eighth in the NWSL standings and eight points out of the playoffs as they continue a five-match stretch against teams currently occupying the four postseason spots.

SUNDAY, JULY 10

Boston Breakers at Orlando Pride: The host Pride hope to rebound from their first-ever home loss when Boston comes to town.

Jasmyne Spencer scored for the second game in a row as the Pride grabbed a second-half lead against Portland Thorns FC but the visitors scored twice in the final 10 minutes of the match to suffer a 2-1 loss, Orlando’s first in team history at Camping World Stadium.

Despite a 4-1 record at home, the team has hit a stretch that has seen them lose four of their last five matches overall – during which time the Pride have been outscored 7-2 with Spencer’s two goals the only offense in the stretch.

Tom Sermanni, the former U.S. Women’s National Team coach, will want to see his defense reassert itself as the Pride kept their opponents under two goals seven times this year – just one more than the Breakers for the league low.

Orlando comes into the game after 13 days off since their last match and will be in search of their first win on nine or more days rest after losing their first two encounters this season following an extended layoff.

Boston is looking to end a league-record for futility away from home. Boston lost 2-0 to Seattle Reign FC last week in their 11th-straight defeat away from home as well as their 18th consecutive game without a victory on the road – both NWSL records.

According to NWSL statistics, Boston’s road form is not unique to this season. Boston went through the entire 2015 campaign without a win away from home and is 4-28-7 with a minus-54 goal difference all-time on their travels in the NWSL.