NWSL Week 1 preview: First kick

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The NWSL is back, with eight of the nine teams in action to kick off the league's second season. The Houston Dash make their debut against defending champions Portland, and we'll get our first look just how much all that tinkering - or lack of - payed off everywhere else.

Opening weekend. It is a split second, in that moment after the anthem is sung and before that first whistle blows, when all nine teams stand on equal ground. Everyone undefeated and winless all at once. Full of hope. Not yet frustrated by a scoring drought or a defense that just can't get its act together and not yet drunk on the cockiness of blowouts and hot streaks. It is slates (mostly) wiped clean by a long winter, injuries healed, possibilities endless. History, however short, does not exist here. However bad -- or good -- your team was a year ago, matters not. Right now, for this moment, they could win it all. They will win it all. Right now, in this moment, everything is possible. Because it has to be.

Because without that, tifo would never get raised in Portland and drums would go silent in Boston and children wouldn't shriek in New Jersey. And we could all go home and see our families and our friends would think we were less crazy and we'd have to think of jokes that didn't revolve around the sheer frustration of ohmygod what is with this YouTube stream?!

This world, the women's soccer one, is hardly ever easy. A lot of times, we just feel lucky to still be alive. But here we are, with a second season and a brand new team to boot. Right now, we'll live forever.

Welcome back.

Houston Dash vs. Portland Thorns FC

BBVA Compass Stadium, Saturday 8:00 PM ET

Well, the scheduling gods certainly wasted no time in giving Houston a proper introduction to the league, didn't they? Portland will be without Alex Morgan, but the defending champion Thorns still have Christine Sinclair and since this is now the Paul Riley Portland Thorns, so some player you've probably never heard of is going to end the season second in the Golden Boot race. Which isn't great news for a Houston team whose defense is looking a little thin at the moment thanks to the absences of Whitney Engen and Megan Klingenberg, who are still finishing out club commitments in Sweden, and Lauren Sesselmann, who tore her ACL last month. Portland will have a defensive hole of its own to fill after Rachel Van Hollebeke (Buehler) suffered an ankle injury while playing with the USWNT on Thursday night.

FC Kansas City vs. Sky Blue FC

Verizon Wireless Field at Durwood Stadium, Saturday 8:00 PM ET

Well firstly, we're going to have to do something about that stadium name, which is super unwieldy. Then again, hey, sponsorship. So, yay dollar signs?

FC Kansas City are probably still feeling a little sour about last season's extra time loss to Portland in the semifinals, a game that the Blues were once winning by two goals, but don't expect a loss-avenging blowout here. Sky Blue FC will be missing Christie Rampone thanks to a toe injury, which isn't great news on the defensive front, but also not something to be crazy worried about because it's only the first game of the season. FC Kansas City-Sky Blue FC matchups are notoriously close and cautious affairs -- last season they split the series 1-1-1 -- and this one should be no different.

Washington Spirit vs. Western NY Flash

Maryland SoccerPlex, Sunday 4:00 PM ET

If you're Washington, how much are you thinking "oh good, Western NY..." right now? The historically (or one season's worth of) bad Spirit made a ton of changes in the offseason and this game is actually maybe pretty huge if you're a team that managed to win just three times in all of 2013. A result for the new-look Spirit against perennial title contenders and last year's semifinal losers Western NY would be a giant boost in the confidence department for a Washington team that very much needs to get things started off right this time.

Seattle Reign FC vs. Boston Breakers

Moda Health Pitch at Memorial Stadium, 7:00 PM ET

Seriously, what is with these stadium names? Is there a year-end award for verbosity in naming? Did the Moda Health Pitch die and now they've erected a stadium in its memory? Maybe just water it more next time. Or don't, it's Seattle. Maybe water it less.

The Boston Breakers have a new coach and mostly all the same players. The Seattle Reign has the same coach they had last season and a bunch of new players. Sydney Leroux will face her old team for the first time, which is probably a good thing to get out of the way with the first game of the season, even with the fact that Reign's new star striker put in 76 minutes for the USWNT on Thursday night. Boston will debut its own new star striker in Lisa De Vanna, and her speed should be a good test for a retooled Reign back four that will be without the injured Carmelina Moscato.

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