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Distance Control For the Top Four

Week 15 of the NWSL regular season truly begins the business end of the season. With only four weeks left before the playoffs after this weekend of action, each team had one game to dictate how the end of the season would finish out. And the result of the four matches this weekend gave some separation between the top and the bottom four teams. Lets take a look at what happened this past weekend in the NWSL as well as what teams will need to do to stay or crack into the top four of the league table.

The Players

Erika Tymrak: The battle for Rookie (or Newcomer) of the Year has really come down to two players. And while Western New York’s Adrianna Franch had another solid week in net, Erika Tymrak proved her worth this week as she had a hand in both goals of FC Kansas City’s 2-0 victory over Seattle. The first goal was created by Tymrak drawing a couple of defenders to one side of the midfield, then picked out Lauren Holiday on the far left of the penalty area with a pin point pass, leading to Holiday’s brilliant strike for the 1-0 lead. Then late in the second half, Tymrak took a throw in, dribbled through four defenders, put the ball on her right foot and curled a 20-yard shot past Hope Solo for the insurance goal. After seeing the field as only a substitute for the first few weeks of the season, the Florida grad hasn’t let go of her starting midfield role and has thrived in a play making role, alongside Holiday. By now she may have also garnered a look or two from Tom Sermanni with her attacking style and playing alongside the current USWNT No. 10 doesn’t hurt either.

Abby Wambach: Everyone knows how Abby Wambach is a great goal scorer. But this weekend against Sky Blue, she played the role of team player by setting her teammates up for two tap-in goals and had a hand in another goal during Western New York’s 3-0 drubbing over Sky Blue. And while her two assists were basically going 1v1 with the goalkeeper and laying off a simple pass to a teammate, she could have had a goal scoring mentality and went for glory. But instead she set up Carli Lloyd in the first half and Sam Kerr in the second half with simple tap in goals after doing all the hard work. And on the second of the Flash’s three goals, Wambach won a header off of a corner kick and while it was eventually finished by Brittany Taylor off of a scramble inside the box, she was the one to get things going. Wambach now has 10 goals (tied for the league lead) and six assists (tied for second in the league) and is the most productive offensively, having a direct hand on 16 of the Flash’s 28 goals and probably set up a few other goals this season as well while not getting direct goal/assist credit. Any player with that production rate could very well get a Player of the Year award and Wambach could be that person.

Alex Morgan: And while it seems like this week’s recap has purely acknowledged strikers/attacking midfielders, Morgan is another player that teams need to be in form at this point in the season. While the goals haven’t been going in for her since her two goal performance against FC Kansas City back on June 6, it has been a transition time for the Thorns after getting in some new players and working out a few things on the field. But on Sunday afternoon, a goal and assisting on the winning goal for Portland will have fans thinking that Morgan is back to her old self. She had a plethora of shots and was active on the front line, including the effort goal she had in the first half where she beat Boston’s goalkeeper Ashley Phillips to a ball over the top and fired into an open net. Now with things starting to settle in the Northwest and the Thorns having a few weeks to put it all together, they could be dangerous in the run up to the playoffs.

The Little Things

Chicago’s Never Say Die Attitude: Can’t say that their matches in the past few weeks have been pretty to watch. But the most important thing for Rory Dames’ side is that they are getting points in every match they can. A 1-0 victory over Washington on Saturday wasn’t exactly the type of result they wanted. But after losing Taryn Hemmings the weekend before to a season ending ACL/MCL injury and having Jackie Santacaterina in at center back for the time being, they will take the three points during this transition period while figuring things out.

Jill Loyden’s First Start: It was surprising seeing Jill Loyden getting her first start of the season for Sky Blue on Sunday, especially after the season that Brittany Cameron has been putting together. But the USWNT reserve goalkeeper was due for a start and while she faced a tough Western New York side, she made a bunch of tough saves and kept the score from getting out of hand. While the three goals weren’t her fault, she played quite well on the afternoon.

The Not So Good

The Rest of Sky Blue FC: Outside of Loyden, Rampone and a few substitutes, Jim Gabarra’s side looked outclassed against the Flash. It did not help losing Lisa De Vanna and Caitlin Foord to injury within the opening half hour (questionable to what their time table on returning to the field is) but the team, especially the defense, did not respond at all. The defensive marking was poor at best, often leaving Christie Rampone short-handed defending two, sometimes three attackers at once. Ever since Sky Blue’s 3-2 victory against Boston on June 16, they have not clicked offensively and if it wasn’t for Monica Ocampo’s late heroics against FC Kansas City and Washington, they would not be in first place. And with matches against FCKC and Portland on the docket in the next 10 days, Gabarra will need to get something from his squad before things get too out of hand.

The Upcoming Week Playoff Impact

I don’t think that magic numbers and points necessary to clinch is something to focus too much at this juncture, because soccer standings can always change at the drop of a hat. I judge things (at least for now) on how teams have been playing, who they will be playing in the next week or two and location of those games on how the top four will be decided. So instead of picking a match to preview for next week (since they all matter from here on out) lets look at what teams are looking at for the next week and what the table might look like in that time:

1. Sky Blue- 31 points, 5 matches left. Plays FCKC on Sunday (Home). Like I said earlier, Sky Blue is in real danger of dropping out of the top spot of the table. And the next few matches will be crucial if they want at least one home match in the playoffs. They would like to have De Vanna healthy if possible because they haven’t gotten any spark up top outside of her. The only element going in their favor for this match is that FCKC plays on Wednesday and will be playing their third match in eight days. So tired legs might favor SBFC here but outside of that they will need to dig down deep to win. Also to keep note that Sky Blue may not be in first when they play on Sunday due to FCKC playing a match beforehand.

2. Portland- 30 points, 6 matches left. Plays Chicago on Sunday (Home). Nothing better than going on the road and potentially eliminating one team from the playoffs, then getting to do the same thing at home the next week. It’s always an advantage for Portland playing at home in front of their crowd and they will want some retribution for the 2-0 win Chicago got at Jeld-Wen back on June 1. The circumstances will be different this time around because both teams will have their full rosters available and Chicago will be playing their third match in eight days, so tired legs might hurt Chicago here.

3. FC Kansas City- 29 points, 5 matches left. Plays Boston on Wednesday (Home), Sky Blue on Sunday (Away). This will be an intriguing time of the season for FC Kansas City. After getting a big result at home this weekend, they have Boston at home (this is the make-up date when the original match was postponed back in April due to the Boston Marathon bombings) who are reeling after their loss this weekend. But after that, they have three matches on the road, including facing Sky Blue this Sunday and Portland the weekend after. So getting points against Boston will be crucial before the Blues hit the road.

4. Western New York- 27 points, 5 matches left. The Flash are idle this week which will help the club rest up and will get Adriana back from the EUROs for the final stretch. Also the Flash play four of their last five matches at home and all but one match is against a team in the bottom four, so they are in good shape for moving up the table before seasons end.

5. Chicago- 22 points, 6 matches left. Plays Seattle on Thursday (Away) and Portland on Sunday (Away). This week will be the make or break for Chicago’s season. With Western New York off this week they could gain some important ground on the standings, maybe even pass the Flash for fourth. But the Red Stars need wins more than draws, but nothing less than four points will be acceptable on this weekend for the Red Stars. If they don’t get that, their season may very well be done.

6. Boston- 20 points, 6 matches left. Plays FCKC on Wednesday (Away) and Washington on Saturday (Away). That loss to Portland might have done Lisa Cole’s side in. Their schedule coming home is the hardest in the league bar none. Five of their six remaining matches are against top-four teams and including Sunday’s match, Boston is playing six matches in 21 days so tired legs may do them in. If they don’t pull six points this week, their playoff chances will be dashed for good.

7. Seattle- 15 points, five matches left. Plays Chicago on Thursday (Home). While this streak of great results for the Reign have been impressive since they have had their full roster available, the loss to FCKC this weekend may have finished any hope of a playoff chance. In fact, if they can’t win on Thursday they can’t make the playoffs unless for crazy circumstances. So now is the perfect time for Laura Harvey’s team to play the spoiler against Chicago and to possibly eliminate them from contention.

8. Washington (eliminated from playoffs)- 7 points, six matches left, Plays Boston on Saturday (Home). Yes, Washington was eliminated from the playoffs this week with a loss to Chicago. Hopefully  their reserve side getting into the USL W-League finals will spur the first team on to go and match their reserves side successes with getting some points.

Week 15 Results

Chicago Red Stars 1-0 Washington Spirit

FC Kansas City 2-0 Seattle Reign FC

Western New York Flash 3-0 Sky Blue FC

Boston Breakers 1-2 Portland Thorns FC

JJ Duke

JJ Duke graduated from Rider University in New Jersey with a degree in Digital Media Studies. While his playing days may have ended back in high school, he still prides himself of being a decent shot-stopper and an all-around fanatic of the beautiful game (fervent supporter of Manchester United and the founder of a Rider supporters group, the 206 Ultras). He is the Student General Manager at 107.7 The Bronc at Rider and has contributed to various local newspaper and Web sites in the Trenton, NJ area of high school and collegiate sports including The Rider News and Fish4Scores.com. He became involved with Our Game Magazine early in 2012 when upon following OGM on Twitter, he was contacted within minutes (which caught him by surprise) by Tiffany about working with the team. After spending the summer covering the USL W-League and the WPSL-Elite league as an intern, he is looking forward to continue working with the OGM team, especially on games in the US.

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