NWSL Week 17 Mid Week Preview

The race to secure a spot in the play offs continues this week with a hectic schedule for three of the top four clubs as they are set to play twice to retain their position and prevent the fifth and sixth squads from closing the gap.

Western New York Flash vs Washington Spirit

Match Date/Time: Wednesday July 31 at 7:05 pm ET

Venue: Sahlen's Stadium, Rochester, NY

Online: Live Sports Video

With four teams set to make the playoffs, it's the Western New York Flash in the most precarious position. Fourth and holding 27 points, their lead over the Boston Breakers is guaranteed to survive the day, but if they drop points against the Spirit they could be overhauled this weekend when they meet the Breakers on Saturday.

Wednesday's match, however, should not be difficult. Spirit are logging a lengthy injury list,with nearly their entire back line sidelined, including Candace Chapman, who went down during Saturday's match against Boston. In addition, it is uncertain whether Ali Krieger will return to action this week following concussion symptoms she developed in week 15.

The Flash are undefeated in their last three matches against the Spirit, and considering that Washington's back line is hanging on a thread, with only Ashlyn Harris and Tori Huster keeping it afloat for the time being, it is likely that their final meeting this season will end in the Flash's favor.

In order to secure an early lead both sides will need to use their strongest lineups. For the Flash that's a combination of Samantha Kerr, Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd. Together they can penetrate into dangerous areas and spread the defense thin. The Flash will be looking for Wambach to provide the goals, and Wednesday should be no different. However, if Krieger and Robyn Gayle do get minutes, they could make life for the U.S. striker very difficult. If so, Lloyd's long-range ability could prove key.

The Spirit recently signed former DC United Women defender Marisa Abegg. She will be available for the back line against the Flash. If the Spirit back four is looking fragile like it has in recent weeks, then the Spirit should utilize this valuable signing -- Abegg has a wealth of experience under her belt playing for the WPSL.

In terms of the Spirit's attacking potential they need to give Stephanie Ochs more responsibility on the field. If Ochs and Diana Matheson can work together, they could put a dent in the scoreline, but their biggest obstacle will be the Flash's back line led by Brittany Taylor who also has three goals and three assists.

Injuries

Western New York Flash

Out: None reported

Washington Spirit

Out: Candace Chapman, Colleen Williams, Caroline Miller and Toni Pressley

Questionable: Ali Krieger and Robyn Gayle

Portland Thorns FC vs Sky Blue FC

Match Date/Time: Wednesday July 31st at 7:30 PM PT, 10:30 PM ET

Venue: JELD-WEN Field, Portland, ORE

Online: NNWSL Soccer YouTube Channel

Sky Blue FC and Portland are once again level in the table, but this time they are fighting to secure sole possession of the second spot behind FC Kansas City. With 31 points apiece, should this match result in a winner that team would only be a point behind FCKC.

Sky Blue will have to work fast and secure an early lead, because Wednesday's Portland Thorns squad is extremely different from the club they faced on June 22nd, before Tobin Heath's arrival. In three appearances for the Thorns, Heath has recorded two assists and continues to wreak havoc in the midfield. The U.S. midfielder has also accumulated three yellow cards.

Sky Blue will forced to play another match without Manya Makoski, who is sidelined with a concussion. Makoski is a powerful presence in the midfield, and she links the attack well, connecting effortlessly with Sophie Schmidt. With Makoski out, and Caitlin Foord and Kelley O'Hara continuing to nurse their ankle injuries, Sky Blue will need to figure out a way to shut down the energy brewing in Portland's midfield.

Lindsi Cutshall has been doing a great job in Caitlin Foord's place, keeping Sky Blue's defense ticking over. However, SBFC's offense remains questionable. Last week, Lisa De Vanna was subbed out after half time against FC Kansas City, raising the question of whether the Australian national can keep up 90 minutes against Portland.

If De Vanna can't place rely on her strained hamstring, then the SBFC midfield needs to be padded with players like Brittany Bock and Nayeli Rangel to act as a first line of defense to keep Christine Sinclair at bay. After scoring a brace against Chicago, she will be walking into Wednesday's match extremely confident.

Taylor Lytle and Katy Freels are great players to slip the ball to the forwards or take potshots on goal themselves. If De Vanna is not comfortable on the field and is subbed out (or does not play at all), then Schmidt should take up a spot up top with Danesha Adams.

On the other end of the field, the Thorns are stacked with attacking talent, not only in their national team allocated players, Sinclair and Alex Morgan but also Mana Shim and Heath. It'll certainly be a tough test for the Sky Blue defense.

Injuries

Portland Thorns FC

Out: Becky Edwards

Sky Blue FC

Out: Caitlin Foord, Kelley O'Hara and Manya Makoski

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