Entering the third month of the season, four players are set to make their 2014 debuts this weekend. Vero, Christen Press, Meghan Klingenberg and Whitney Engen all land in the NWSL after spending the beginning of the season with Swedish club Tyreso. Klingenberg and Engen head to Houston, Vero to Portland, and Press will join Chicago.
When this all started back in April, it seemed like Portland would probably be fine having Nadine Angerer, Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair and all, but both Houston and Chicago would have to employ some kind of hold on tight strategy until their respective reinforcements arrived. Portland has struggled more than expected though, and Chicago and Houston ultimately took two very different approaches; the Dash are barely holding on - Houston's just a point out of last place heading into the weekend, and the Red Stars grabbed on so tightly that they climbed right into a race for second place.
Now there are very different questions. Will Press' arrival disrupt a team that's got a very good thing going? Can Engen and Klingenberg save Houston, or is it too little, too late for the Dash? Will the addition of Vero be the thing Portland needs to right the ship, or are there already too many cooks in Paul Riley's kitchen?
FC Kansas City vs. Boston Breakers
Verizon Wireless Field Durwood Stadium, Saturday 8:00 PM ET
Four days after the relative high of topping Portland, the Boston Breakers slipped back into last place with a loss to Washington last Sunday. Boston has struggled all season, the win - and a major lineup shakeup - a very temporary bright spot in an otherwise pretty miserable 2014. Saturday's trip to Kansas City marks the first road match in a month for Boston; the Breakers are coming off five straight at Harvard, but the homestand was anything but a success. Boston dropped four of those five games, taking just three points from a possible 15 and being outscored 13-8. Now they'll have to face a Kansas City side that's slowly and quietly been climbing the table.
The Blues had a back-and-forth start to the season, but things have steadied since and FCKC is currently in the midst of a four game unbeaten run - including a 2-0 win over Boston two weeks ago. Amy Rodriguez has kept pace with Kim Little in the Golden Boot race, netting her ninth of the season in a 1-0 win over Western NY on Wednesday. Little may have just nabbed her second consecutive Player of the Month award, but A-Rod has been making a pretty solid case to be included in the conversation. The Blues got more good news in their midweek match too, with Amy LePeilbet making her NWSL debut after missing all of last season and the beginning of this one thanks to a knee injury. LePeilbet played just six minutes against Western NY, but her return is a welcome one for a defense that's looked spotty at times.
Seattle Reign FC vs. Chicago Red Stars
Moda Pitch Memorial Stadium, Saturday 10:00 PM ET
When the schedule came out way back in the dark days of a never-ending winter, Seattle-Chicago was hardly the matchup anyone had circled on their calendar. Last season's seventh place finishers versus last season's sixth place finisher? Sure, whatever. But oh, how things have changed since then. Seattle still hasn't lost in 2014, heading into Sunday at the top of the table with an 8-0-2 record. Chicago, now in third but tied with second-place Washington on points, lost for the first time on Wednesday after a six-game, five-win, run. The Red Stars went unbeaten in the month of May, climbing from the basement to the top four and sticking around.
Seattle though, marks the first real test for Chicago. Those six unbeaten games were all against the bottom three teams, with two each against Houston, Boston and Sky Blue FC. Wednesday's match against Washington was the first time the Red Stars played a team in the top four since losing to FC Kansas City on April 30th. Now, they'll have an even tougher test in the seemingly invincible Reign. Chicago might have a little extra help though; Press should be available for the Red Stars after arriving in Chicago last week.
Portland Thorns FC vs. Western NY Flash
Providence Park, Saturday 10:00 PM ET
Western NY is not very good. Maybe they were, maybe they will be again, but right now, the Flash are just bad. Wednesday's loss to FC Kansas City dropped Western NY into sixth and just a point above seventh-place Sky Blue FC. The Flash is now winless in five and they've lost four of those five, showing no signs of things getting better anytime soon along the way. Portland has fared only slightly better. The Thorns too have fallen out of the top four thanks to a pair of consecutive losses, to Sky Blue and Boston no less. The only bright spot - if you ignore that it came in a 4-1 loss to the Breakers and nine games into the season - is that Christine Sinclair finally tallied her first goal of the year.
All of which adds up to something not that great. Except this is still a rematch of last year's final, it's still in Portland, the Thorns will continue to play "will we or won't we" with Alex Morgan, and the last time these two teams met - also in Portland, on May 21st - it was one of the most complete performances from either team this season. Portland won that one 2-1. The Thorns and Flash also played each other in Rochester on May 3rd, drawing 1-1. This is the final meeting of the regular season - and maybe 2014 if things keep going the way they're going - between the two. Welcome to the Rematch of the Rematch of the Rematch of the Rematch.
Sky Blue FC vs. Houston Dash
Yurcak Field, Sunday 6:00 PM ET
Oh, this game. Because NWSL rules insist that both teams can't lose a game, someone, or everyone, will get at least a point. The first ever-meeting between New Jersey's version of the Houston Dash and Texas' version of Sky Blue FC features two teams with identical colors, almost identical records save for the fact that Sky Blue FC has at least kind of figured out the art of a draw, and identical problems. Neither team has anyone that can consistently score goals, both teams have defenses that are apparently suffering from some sort of narcolepsy-like condition, and everyone's coach has been ejected from a game at least once.
Houston does get some defensive reinforcement thanks to the arrival of Engen and Klingenberg from Sweden and both are expected to make their season debuts on Saturday. Or maybe just give one to each team since the likelihood of both sides accidentally wearing the same color is pretty high and probably no one will notice anyway.