NWSL Week 16 Weekend Preview

USA TODAY Sports

Sky Blue lost their first place spot to FC Kansas City who overtook Boston in a 3-0 defeat during mid-week action. On Sunday, the former first place team will host FC Kansas City to reclaim their long held position atop the throne.

Washington Spirit vs Boston Breakers

Match Date/Time: Saturday July 27 2013 at 7:00 PM

Venue: Maryland Soccerplex Stadium, Boyds, MD

Online: NWSL Soccer YouTube Channel

The final weekend scheduled matches of July starts with Washington hosting Boston. The Spirit are mathematically unable to qualify for the playoffs but they can still attempt to deprive the Breakers of a chance to move forward in the tournament.

Washington is the only team with single digit points. The last place team in the league is struggling and last week's own goal debacle by Tiffany McCarty didn't help their situation or confidence. This week they are faced with another obstacle. During Week 15, the Spirit had to deal with the absence of Ali Krieger who will move into the 16th week on the injured list as well. However, the Spirit will also deal with another defender missing from the back four, as Toni Pressley will be out of action due to a groin strain.

Ashlyn Harris will yet again be relied upon to make the crucial saves and help the Spirit stay in the game. To help Harris out, the midfield will need to play aggressively as this would be the only method to prevent Boston's strongest midfield assets, Lianne Sanderson, Heather O'Reilly and Joanna Lohman from moving the ball forward and finding the road runner Sydney Leroux in the box for a goal.

In terms of attacking options, the Spirit still have Diana Matheson running the show in the midfield and causing havoc up front but all eyes will be on Conny Pohlers to see what she can bring to the field as her team continues to suffer defensively and offensively. If Pohlers and Matheson can team up and link short passes between one another they might be able to find the holes in the Boston defense which is not foolproof.

For the Breakers, they suffered an embarassing defeat against FC Kansas City on the back of an own goal by defender Kia McNeill to give Kansas City a 3-0 win and first place in the league. The Breakers will have to bounce back from this defeat and take advantage of the Spirit's current situation if they wish to secure three points and overtake Chicago in the fifth slot.

Injuries

Washington Spirit

Out:Ali Krieger, Toni Pressley, Robyn Gayle, Colleen Williams and Caroline Miller

Boston Breakers

Out: Bianca D'Agostino

Portland Thorns FC vs Chicago Red Stars

Match Date/Time: Sunday July 28 2013 at 4:00 PM PT

Venue: JELD-WEN Field, Portland, ORE

TV: Fox Soccer

Due to the recent change to the top four in the league table, Portland has now dropped to third place still trailing Sky Blue by a point but now trailing FC Kansas City by two points. Depending on the final result between FC Kansas City' and Sky Blue on Sunday, Portland might have a chance to reclaim their second place spot as long as they defeat Chicago.

For all three previous matches between Portland and Chicago, the score line has been identical at 2-0, usually in favor of Portland, who have defeated the Red Stars twice. The only difference this time around is that Portland is suited with heavy artillery in the midfield in the form of Tobin Heath. The U.S. midfielder has made a huge impact for the Thorns, helping them secure their first victory in over a month.

The chemistry flowing out of the midfield is toxic when it comes in contact with the opposition as they struggle to contain the energy that Heath presents in her on field connection with strikers, Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan. More importantly, the Thorns have a budding striker in the midst, Mana Shim. The former Santa Clara Bronco is an asset for the attack and Chicago will need to shut her down when she is on the ball.

For Chicago to prevent Portland from reclaiming the second spot in the league, they will have to place early pressure on the Thorns midfield. The Portland defense is strong but Karina LeBlanc can be blindsided if the Red Stars sneak up on the defense for a quick shot on goal rather than calculated runs towards the center of the field.

In terms of attacking options, Chicago should start Ella Masar rather than substituting her in the second half. She is fast and accurate on the ball, her on field communication with Lori Chalupny and Inka Grings could provide Chicago with multiple goals.

Injuries

Portland Thorns FC

Out: Becky Edwards

Chicago Red Stars

Out: Shannon Boxx, Zakiya Bywaters and Taryn Hemmings

Sky Blue FC vs FC Kansas City

Match Date/Time: Sunday July 28 2013 at 6:00 PM ET

Venue: Yurcak Field Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

Online: NWSL Soccer YouTube Channel

This will be a tense match to say the least as Sky Blue are dealing with a huge blow to their confidence. Not only have they lost their coveted first place spot in the league but they are down a proficient defender, Caitlin Foord, and will be missing the attacking prowess of Kelley O'Hara.

It is unknown whether Lisa De Vanna will make an appearance on Sunday for the front line after suffering a right hamstring strain against The Flash in Week 15. The Australian ball of force up front is a large part why Sky Blue has kept their position atop the throne but this week the New Jersey club will need to compose a different game plan.

The best way for Sky Blue to earn a point or three at home is to work with their strengths and introduce their secret weapons in the second half. Since the start of the season, Taylor Lytle has been phenomenal for SBFC but putting her in the starting XI hasn't helped as much as injecting her in the second half. Two out of three of Lytle's goals came from off the bench in the second half. She is opportunistic and takes shots from distance, this energy is needed when the game falls into a dull routine.

If Lytle sits on the bench for a portion of the game, then the Mexican nationals should get the start. Nayeli Rangel and Monica Ocampo are physically strong on the ball and players like that are an asset when facing FC Kansas City. The last time both teams met, it was Ocampo who sunk two late second half goals to earn a point at home for Sky Blue.

The final two pieces for Sky Blue would be to secure the midfield and the best way to do this is by having Sophie Schmidt and Brittany Bock starting in the midfield alongside Katy Freels. This trio is exceptional when it comes to dispossessing, defending and attacking, essentially a triple threat and something that Sky Blue desperately needs to bring home a point against FC Kansas City.

FC Kansas City don't have many flaws to correct but it won't be much of a secret that Erika Tymrak, Lauren Holiday, Melissa Henderson and Merritt Mathias will be looking to hurt the scoreline early. Another important element to their 8 game unbeaten streak is Kristie Mewis. She will overlap her runs on the flank if that is what it takes to move the ball out of the midfield and in the feet of her teammates on the edge of the penalty box. Sky Blue will have to play smart and close her down.

Injuries

Sky Blue FC

Out: Caitlin Foord and Kelley O'Hara

Doubtful: Manya Makoski (concussion)

FC Kansas City

Out: None Reported

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