NWSL weekend preview: ultimate test awaits for Kennedy, van Egmond

The race for the National Women’s Soccer League play-offs is going right down to the wire.

And with only a handful of regular season fixtures left for our Westfield W-League stars, this weekend looms as a potentially decisive one for those with finals aspirations.

READ: Raso takes out NWSL Goal of the Week

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Here's what's ahead for our Westfield Matildas in the NWSL this weekend:

 

Houston Dash v Washington Spirit

Saturday 10.30am AEST

Houston Dash remains in the play-offs race, but only just.

Kyah Simon, who helped Melbourne City to last season's Westfield W-League crown, and Brisbane Roar's Clare Polkinghorne's Dash are currently on 26 points – two away from sixth-placed Utah Royals, four points behind fifth-placed Chicago Red Stars, and four points away from Orlando Pride in fourth.

It’s been an up and down season for Houston, who have struggled to string back to back wins together. That is a trend the finals outsiders must break in order to preserve their chances of reaching the pointy end, and after a 2-1 defeat of bottom-club Sky Blue last week, they arrive into the contest in good shape.

The same cannot be attributed to Washington Spirit, who are 16 points adrift of the Dash in eighth and have registered just a single goal in their last nine matches.  Moreover, the Washington-based side has not picked up an away victory yet this campaign, meaning Simon and Polkinghorne’s Dash have a great chance to keep their finals hopes alive.

There are question marks over the striker's availability for this one, however - she has been nursing an ankle sprain over the last week.

Sky Blue FC v Utah Royals

Sunday 8.30am AEST

With just three matches remaining in their season, Katrina Gorry’s Utah Royals must take maximum points from their clash against Sky Blue in order to remain in the finals hunt.

A 1-0 loss to Seattle Reign saw the Royals slip into sixth place last round and with their main rivals Chicago Red Stars enjoying a game in hand above them, Utah cannot afford to slip up against the league's bottom club.

Sky Blue are still yet to win a match this season and lost their fourteenth of the year after falling 2-1 to Houston Dash last week. With just four points accrued through the season and just one of those coming at home, things are well poised for the Royals to keep their campaign ticking over.

North Carolina Courage v Orlando Pride

Sunday 9.00am AEST

Orlando Pride face a stern test of their championship credentials when they take on North Carolina Courage on Sunday.

The competition leaders have already claimed the NWSL shield and might have one eye on the playoffs. In comparison, Alanna Kennedy , who played for Melbourne City in the 2017/18 Season, and Newcastle Jets midfielder Emily van Egmond's Pride are in the thick of a playoff race.

Orlando are sitting in fourth place but are on equal points with Sam Kerr’s Chicago Red Stars and have sixth-placed Utah Royals also breathing down their necks.

A win for Orlando would be potentially season-defining, and there’s no doubt the Westfield Matildas defender will be of paramount importance to their fight. Kennedy found the back of the net in the first meeting of the season between these two sides and her defensive resolution will be critical to stopping the rampaging league leaders.

Portland Thorns v Chicago Red Stars

Sunday 12.30pm AEST

These two sides are separated by just two points on the table prior to kick off and it’s looming as one of the biggest games of the home stretch.

Portland Thorns, who have Hayley Raso, Ellie Carpenter and Caitlin Foord on their roster, are currently third in the league standings but cannot afford a slip up with Orlando Pride and the Red Stars in close quarters.

They will enter the contest buoyed by the form of Raso, who has been in sensational form for the Thorns. She scored her second goal of the season last week’s 2-0 win over Orlando Pride – a barnstorming run with a deadly finish to match, and a strike that took out the NWSL Goal of the Week.

Having drawn a blank against Aussie teammate Lydia Williams in Chicago’s 0-0 draw with Seattle Reign on Thursday afternoon, Sam Kerr is looking to be back among the goals. The Red Stars have drawn their last two matches and will need their superstar Australian to lead them to what could be a crucial win.

NWSL LADDER

All NWSL matches can be streamed live at nwslsoccer.com

*Teams in bold contain Westfield Matildas players

1.            North Carolina Courage – played 21, 50 points, +28

2.            Seattle Reign – played 21, 37 points, +8

3.            Portland Thorns – played 20, 32 points, +8

4.            Orlando Pride – played 21, 30 points, -1

5.            Chicago Red Stars – played 20, 30 points, +4

6.            Utah Royals – played 21, 28 points, -3

7.            Houston Dash – played 20, 26 points, -6

8.            Washington Spirit – played 20, 10 points, -17

9.            Sky Blue FC – played 18, 4 points, -21