NWSL week 11 preview: Second half

Mark Nolan

The middle of the table is getting crowded, and with Washington-Portland and Chicago-Kansas City both on the schedule, week 11 could bring some big changes to the standings.

With everyone but Portland now officially entering the second half of the season, every game becomes bigger, every three points that much more important. While Seattle has cemented their spot at the top of the table, the playoff race is getting tighter for everyone else. Washington is holding on to the final playoff spot, but both Portland and Western NY are just two points behind the Spirit. And the Spirit's 20 points put them just one back of third-place Chicago, who are only four points behind FC Kansas City for the second spot. Even one-time basement-dwellers Houston are now just six points out of fourth. There's also Sky Blue and Boston, but they're playing each other this week, and someone has to finish last.

Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns FC
Maryland SoccerPlex, Saturday 6:30 PM ET

Portland has had an up and down season thus far, slipping all the way into sixth thanks to a few less than impressive performances. The Thorns had dropped three straight in increasingly embarrassing fashion - losing 1-0 to Sky Blue FC, 4-1 to Boston and 5-0 to Western NY - before righting the ship last weekend against Washington. The Thorns beat the Spirit 2-0 last Sunday at Providence Park, and a win in the second half of the home-and-home would send Portland right back into the top four. Washington would fall out of a playoff spot with a loss.

Most of the international contingent should be available for both teams, which is not necessarily the best news for Portland, who were a much better team last week, sans most of their big names. The "full strength" Thorns, lest we forget, have appeared only once so far this season and it went poorly. Then, Paul Riley, apparently thinking he was on Chopped: NWSL Edition and thus required to use every ingredient in the basket, managed to cook up a dish called The Worst Loss in NWSL History. It did not please the judges, with a lot of distinct flavors that made no sense together and ended up just kind of gummy and weird and mostly inedible.

Now Mark Parsons will have to deal with a similar temptation. In the past week, Washington has acquired both Lisa DeVanna via a trade with Boston, and Kerstin Garefrekes from on loan from FFC Frankfurt. Both players could make their Spirit debut against the Thorns and will add to a Washington offense that was already, perhaps surprisingly, effective. Eight different players have combined for Washington's 21 goals this season. Portland meanwhile, has just four different goal scorers, and a league-low-even-Sky Blue FC-has-scored-more-times-than-you 12 goals.

The Spirit will be without Jordan Angeli, who's serving a suspension for looking vaguely but not really at all like Tori Huster and already having a yellow card when she did it. Similarly, the Thorns will be missing Nadine Angerer, who's also suspended for red card-related reasons.

FC Kansas City vs. Chicago Red Stars
Verizon Wireless Field Durwood Stadium, Saturday 8:00 PM ET

There is Seattle and Portland and the attention that comes with the undefeated season and the thus far disappointing one. There is Washington and Chicago and the attention that comes with improvement and unexpected roles as contenders and tough competition. There is Boston and Sky Blue and the attention that comes with disbelief that they can actually be this bad all of the time. And there is Houston and the attention that comes with being an expansion team with a tough start and a slow rise. But there is also, without much attention being paid, the team that's unbeaten in six and sitting in second on the table. There is FC Kansas City. The Blues have quietly climbed as close to Seattle - an eight point gap - as anyone's gotten so far this season.

Chicago meanwhile, is still in third, but the Red Stars have struggled against the other top four teams, and after going unbeaten in May, Chicago is winless in June. The Red Stars have dropped four straight, earning just a single point in those games thanks to a 2-2 draw with Sky Blue FC that can't even be counted as a bright spot because it was a game in which Chicago blew a two-goal lead.

FC Kansas City and Chicago have met once previously this season, a 1-0 win for the Blues.

Sky Blue FC vs. Boston Breakers
Yurcak Field, Sunday 1:00 PM ET

Why? Just... why?

This is the third meeting of the season between last-place Boston and might-as-well-be-last-place Sky Blue FC. Each team has won once, either against each other or all season, it's hard to tell anymore. It is, mercifully, the final Basement Derby of the season and then we won't have to watch Boston and Sky Blue attempt to play each other again for ten months. So, at least there's that. It's like we've all won already.

Western NY Flash vs. Seattle Reign FC
Sahlen's Stadium, Sunday 3:00 PM ET

Thanks to a 2-0 win over Boston on Thursday, the Reign's season-long unbeaten run is now at 12, and Seattle did this one without Hope Solo, Sydney Leroux, Stephanie Cox, Jess Fishlock and Kim Little, all of whom were on international duty. Carmelina Moscato did make her season debut on Thursday after missing the first 11 games due to injury, and the Reign have also been teasing the return of the injured Megan Rapinoe. Oh, and they'll have all of those other players back for the weekend, too.

Seattle and Western NY have met just once this season, a 2-2 draw at the end of May, and while Seattle has remained consistent as the league's top team, things have been up and down for the Flash. Western NY beat Chicago on Wednesday, lost to Houston last week, and crushed Portland 5-0 the week before that. Which leaves just one question: which Western NY will show up on Sunday?

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