NWSL Week 20 Preview: Lots of drama left on the last weekend of the season

beck edwards

by TOM SLATER

The final weekend of the National Women’s Soccer League (2016) season is here and there’s still some drama left.

Western New York and Seattle are still fighting for the final playoff spot.

Both Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns FC are still duking it out for the league’s Supporter’s Shield as the side with the best regular season record.

Orlando wants to snap a long winless streak and send off Becky Edwards in style.

FC Kansas City wants to forget this season altogether.

FC Kansas City (6-8-5, 23 points) at Orlando Pride (6-12-1, 19 points): There’s nothing at stake here but Orlando’s pride and the Blues from finishing the season with the blues.

The Pride hasn’t won since July 10 and doesn’t want to end their season on an eight-game winless streak.   FC Kansas City wants to end this forgettable season on a strong note after winning two consecutive league championships. A win or tie will give the Blues a four-game unbeaten streak to end the season.

The Pride is led by Alex Morgan (four goals)  and Becky Edwards (six goals). Ashlyn Harris has played well in goal. The game will be the last professional match for Becky Edwards after seven years in both the NWSL and Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS).

FC Kansas City is led by goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, who has six shutouts on the season. Barnhart led the league in shutouts for each of the first three years of the NWSL’s existence and a clean sheet Saturday will see to it that the former U.S. international has at least as many as one else in the league for a fourth consecutive season.

Defender Becky Sauerbrunn and backline mates Brittany Taylor and Katie Bowen have helped FC Kansas City have the third-best defense in the league. Striker Shea Groom leads the team with eight goals.

History: FC Kansas City won the first-ever meeting between the two clubs, 2-0. Erika Tymrak and Yael Averbuch scored the goals.

When: Saturday, September 24, 5 p.m. ET

Where: Camping World Stadium, Orlando

Western New York Flash (8-6-5, 29 points) at Boston Breakers (3-14-2, 11 points): The Flash want to end a xxx-game slide and clinch their first playoff berth since 2013. They need a win or draw against the NWSL’s last-place team.

Western New York has a potent scoring duo in Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald. Both scored late goals in a nationally televised loss to Portland last weekend. Williams comes into the contest tied with Houston Dash forward Kealia Ohai in the race for the 2016 NWSL Golden Boot with 10 goals. Meanwhile, McDonald is just one behind the pair with nine goals – tied with Portland forward Nadia Nadim for third.

Boston has struggled all season and would like nothing more than to spoil the Flash’s post-season hopes. The Breakers enters the season finale on the heels of a 4-1 loss to Houston in Week 18 that consigned them to the worst single-season record in NWSL history (by points per game).

Boston needs to score at least one goal Saturday to avoid setting a new NWSL record for fewest goals per game in a single season – currently held by the 2013 Washington Spirt (0.73 GPG). The Breakers will also be looking to keep the Flash’s high-powered offense to one or fewer goals in order to avoid becoming the worst single-season defense in league history – a mark that presently rests with the 2014 Breakers (2.21 goals against average).

History:  Western New York holds a 7-2-3 led in the series history. The Breakers have never beaten the Flash at home. The two teams played to a 2-2 draw on Sept. 7.

When: Saturday, September 24, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan Field, Boston.

Washington Spirit (12-4-3, 39 points) at Chicago Red Stars (8-5-6, 30 points):  The Spirit and Red Stars already qualified for the playoffs but can clinch their franchise’s first-ever Supporter’s Shield with a victory. If they do not win their regular-season finale, the Spirit will need Portland Thorns FC to not better Washington’s result when they take on Sky Blue FC Sunday night.

Washington is coming off a rare shutout loss to Seattle, 2-0, and would like to pull off a positive result against a solid team.

The Spirit have a multi-pronged offense with Katie Stengel, Joanna Lohman and Diana Matheson each with four goals. Crystal Dunn, last year’s leading scorer, has but one goal but can break out at any given moment.

Chicago is led by its defense. Alyssa Naeher has six shutouts, tying her with Barnhart for the league lead. Julie Johnston and Casey Short have anchored the back line. Christen Press (seven goals) and Sofia Huerta (six goals) pace the offense.

History:  Washington leads the series 6-2-1. Washington won on July 9, 2-0.

When: Saturday, September 24, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

Seattle Reign FC (7-6-6, 28 points) at Houston Dash (6-9-4, 22 points) :  Seattle needs to hope for a Western New York Flash loss or tie and then do one better to gain a playoff spot. A Flash win, however, will leave the Reign out of the playoffs for the first time in three years.

The Reign have earned seven points in their last four games to close the gap on Western New York to two points on the strength of an offensive boost that has seen them score eight goals during that stretch. Forward Manon Melis has featured heavily in the Seattle attack with three goals in the last four matches – while midfielders Megan Rapinoe (goal, assist) and Nahomi Kawasumi (two assists) have also made their presence felt.

The Dash have been on a hot streak of late, recording a 4-2-3 record over nine matches as Kealia Ohai has transformed herself into an offensive force.

The forward enters the final weekend of the season with 10 goals – tied with Western New York forward Lynn Williams for the most in the league. It is a remarkable achievement for a player who did not score her first goal until July 16 – in her team’s 11th game of the season.

History:  Seattle is 6-0-0 against Houston all-time. The Reign won, 1-0, on June 12.

When: Sunday, September 25, 9:30 p.m., ET

Where: BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston

TV: Fox Sports 1