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2013 NWSL preview: Picks, predictions, and blind prognostication

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We’re ready to wrap this up. With kickoff in Kansas City just over four hours away, it’s time to get ProSoccerTalk’s authors on record about the upcoming NWSL season: Who’ll win the games; who’ll score the goals; and which teams will make their inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season a fruitful one.

Having to pick a finishing order for eight teams you’ve never seen is an unenviable task, but the process is a good, quick way to provide some context for the upcoming season. See the same teams at the top of multiple lists, you know they’re probably favorites. If a team tends to land at the bottom, you know they have their work cut out for them.

Between those extremes, there’s conflict for Richard Farley and Jeff Kassouf. Here are their picks for the upcoming season: Order of finish and awards.

More links to preview content, below.

Pos. Kassouf Farley
1 Portland – We’ve seen this script before, and while there may be potential depth issues in the back, there’s no defense in this league or in the world that can handle Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair together. This has 2010 FC Gold Pride and 2011 WNY Flash written all over it, but perhaps a little less dominant. Portland – As we’ll see below, I have no problem with making a reach with preseason predictions, especially when we haven’t seen these teams play. Ever. But to have Portland below number one demands judging their few weaknesses more harshly than you would other teams’. Not that I begrudge somebody’s willingness to do so.
2 FC Kansas City – Solid throughout and should give every team trouble, especially if some of the yet-to-breakout players like Renae Cuellar (stellar preseason) come to life. FC Kansas City – The most well-rounded team in the league. They’ve done a great job with decent allocations, shrewd picks, and smart signings. A clear number two.
3 Western New York Flash – Composing a genuine back line a big question mark, but the midfield is spectacular and Abby Wambach and Adriana up top, with Veronica Perez sitting in behind, should do the Flash well. Boston Breakers – Huge problems in defense, but the Breakers have big upside in attack. Sydney Leroux will be one of the league’s best players, Heather O’Reilly’s one of the circuit’s few true threats from wide, and Australian Kyah Simon will also grab goals. At the back, they’re in really bad shape, but half the teams in this league may  be unable to take advantage.
4 Sky Blue FC – A good spine with Jill Loyden/Brittany Cameron in net, Christie Rampone leading in the back, Brittany Bock and Sophie Schmidt in the middle and Kelley O’Hara up top. Good coaching from Jim Gabarra could be the difference that gets SBFC into the playoffs. Seattle Reign – It will be at least eight games before Seattle gets Megain Rapinoe and Hope Solo back. If they can go 2-4-2 in that span, I think they grab the four seed. But for two months, I’m going to look like the irrational president of the Laura Harvey fanclub, though I’ll admit – the idea of changing GMs six days before kickoff made me reconsider what’s going on in Seattle.
5 Boston Breakers – Heather O’Reilly, Sydney Leroux and Kyah Simon should have this team scoring goals, but the Breakers failed to go out and get a starting goalkeeper and that will end up costing them. Chicago Red Stars – Good goalkeeping with Erin McLeod. Decent in defense. They have an above-average midfield thanks to Lori Chalupny. Rory Dames thinks he’ll find enough goals to make this work. I think they come up just short.
6 Chicago Red Stars – Just not enough firepower on this team, though Inka Grings’ arrival later in May could change that. Sky Blue FC – I could see this team finishing anywhere between three and six. So why am I picking them six? It’s a flaw in my analysis. I tend to find aspects I love or hate about teams and dwell on them. Sometimes that works, most of the time it doesn’t. This time, it has Sky Blue sixth. There’s just nothing about this team that I either hate or love.
7 Seattle Reign FC –  With Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo, this team suddenly looks a lot better. Unfortunately, both those players will miss at least the first couple months of the season. Western New York Flash – I think this blows up. I’m not confident Abby Wambach holds up (just a hunch). Carli Lloyd tends to be much better with the national team than at club level. The defense has issues, though if Adi Franch is as good as advertised, she’ll cover some cracks, (though it’s not like Hope Solo’s teams had huge WPS success). While I like Franch, I think it’s more likely Wambach and Lloyd fail to match their national team output.
8 Washington Spirit – The back is solid, sure – I regard Ali Krieger as one of the best right backs out there and Ashlyn Harris will do well. But I don’t see how this team is scoring many goals. Washington Spirit – Goalkeeping, some good defenders, but little else. Like anybody else in this league they prove much better once we see them play. Ultimately, we’re making picks based on teams we’ve never seen play.
Awards
MVP Alex Morgan or Christine Sinclair will probably get it, but I typically vote for the underappreciated players that hold teams together, like a Becky Edwards. I’ve got Christine Sinclair, but if national team absences prove decisive, a non-national teamer like Becky Edwards could take it. (Clearly, Jeff and I have known each other for too long.)
Golden Boot Christine Sinclair Alex Morgan
Best Defender Becky Sauerbrunn Becky Sauerbrunn – No Amy LePeilbet. No Whitney Engen. Sauerbrunn was a WPS warrior.
Goalkeeper of the Year Nicole Barnhart Adrianna Franch
Rookie of the Year Adrianna Franch Christine Nairn – Even if I don’t like her team’s chances, Franch wins the Keeper honor on talent and her competition missing so much time. Nairn gets the Rookie honor while helping Seattle survive the storm.

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MLS Snapshot: San Jose Earthquakes 1-2 Sporting KC (video)

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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The game in 100 words (or less): Too many teams qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs. There, I said it. Because MLS rules are written as such, two of Sporting Kansas City, Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders will likely make it this year, and that’s two too many. On Saturday, the former most narrowly outplayed an even worse San Jose Earhthquakes side, to the tune of 2-1, to go fifth in the Western Conference and move eight points clear of the 7th-place Sounders. The worst part about the current playoff structure: one of the above mentioned sides will almost certainly get hot in the postseason, after doing very little over the course of 34 games to establish themselves as one of the league’s elite. You know, just like the Timbers did last year. Anyway, Dom Dwyer, Simon Dawkins and Kevin Ellis scored the goals on the night. Neither side is any good, nor should they be in the playoffs. That’s MLS.

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — 4 teams can clinch playoff berth this weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

7′ — Dwyer heads home for the early opener — The ball from Paulo Nagamura was inch-perfect, and the header by Dwyer was unstoppable.

42′ — Coelho whiffs, Dawkins makes it 1-1 — That’s just unlucky, if you’re Nuno Coelho.

81′ — Ellis bundles the corner kick home for 2-1 — A fitting winner to this game.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: Dwyer (7′), Dawkins (42′), Ellis (81′)

MLS Snapshot: Vancouver Whitecaps 3-3 Colorado Rapids (video)

COMMERCE CITY, CO - JULY 23: Tim Howard #1 of the Colorado Rapids stands in the goal against the FC Dallas at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on July 23, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): And … exhale. Realistically speaking, the Colorado Rapids probably watched their hopes of catching and passing FC Dallas in the race for the Supporters’ Shield when they blew not one, not two, but three leads away to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, settling for a 3-3 draw in the end. Dominique Badji put the visitors 1-0 up after eight minutes, which was also the halftime score. The final 39 minutes would feature five goals, and a red card. Kendall Waston brought the hosts level in the 51st minute, then was sent off in the 56th minute, and Shkelzen Gashi made it 2-1 from the penalty spot a minute later. Pedro Morales scored for 2-2 in the 70th, but Gashi hit an inch-perfect free kick for 3-2 just five minutes later. Erik Hurtado scored in the 93rd minute for 3-3. The Rapids are safe in the Western Conference’s playoff places (currently second), while a draw is nowhere near enough to save Vancouver’s season. At least it was exciting, though.

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — 4 teams can clinch playoff berth this weekend ]

Three Four Five Six moments that mattered

8′ — Badji rolls it into an empty net for 1-0 — Marlon Hairston took one for the team when he clattered into David Ousted, but was a quick enough thinker to lay the ball off for Badji, who made no mistake with his wide open chance.

51′ — Waston rises above the crowd for 1-1 — Kendall Waston … still really big, and dangerous on set pieces.

57′ — Waston sees red, Gashi converts the PK — Kendall Waston … red card. That’s Kendall Waston bingo, right? Gashi converted the ensuing penalty kick, and the Rapids were 2-1 ahead.

70′ — Morales finishes a quick move down the left — Erik Hurtado flashed the skill, Giles Barnes provided the cut-back, and Morales kept his wits about him on the finish. A man down, but back on level terms, for now.

75′ — Gashi hits a free kick pure as can be — Gashi couldn’t have picked the ball up, carried it to goal, and placed it over the line anymore perfectly than he hit this one.

90+3′ — Hurtado bring Vancouver level one last time — To come back from a goal down, and a man down, twice … that’s pretty impressive. It’s far more demoralizing, though, for the Rapids.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Shkelzen Gashi

Goalscorers: Badji (8′), Waston (51′), Gashi (57′ – PK, 75′), Morales (70′), Hurtado (90+3′)

MLS Snapshot: DCU 4-1 Orlando City | Red Bulls 1-0 Impact (video)

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 20: Nick DeLeon #14 and Lamar Neagle #13 celebrate a second half goal by Fabian Espindola #10 of D.C. United (R) against the Colorado Rapids at RFK Stadium on March 20, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): On Friday, I billed D.C. United vs. Orlando City SC as something a “win to remain in the playoff race” matchup. On Saturday, DCU were the only side to show up to RFK Stadium hoping to further their case for a place in the postseason. Patrick Mullins bagged a brace for Ben Olsen’s side, bringing his tally to seven goals since being acquired via trade in late July, while Lloyd Sam found paydirt for the second time since also being acquired via trade, in early July. Juliao Baptista pulled a goal back for the Lions, 3-0 down by that point. Julian Buescher restored the three-goal lead in the 90th minute, and that was that. Now level on games played with the New England Revolution, DCU currently sit a point ahead of the Revs for the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference (New England are away to Columbus Crew SC on Sunday).

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — 4 teams can clinch playoff berth this weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

34′ — Mullins taps home to make it 1-0 — Mullins’ instincts inside the penalty area are exceptional. He’s one of those guys who always knows where to be, and exactly when to be there.

51′ — Sam heads past Bendik to double the lead — With the entire Orlando defense seemingly asleep, Sam was left all alone seven yards out.

53′ — Mullins goes far post for 3-0 — The window through which he had to slot this ball was quite small, but no problem for Mullins.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Patrick Mullins

Goalscorers: Mullins (34′, 53′), Sam (51′), Baptista (72′), Buescher (90′)


The game in 100 words (or less): The Eastern Conference is no more discernible today than it was on opening day of the 2016 season. After nearly seven months of games, the New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC and New York City FC all sit on 48 points (TFC with a game in hand) after the Red Bulls’ 1-0 victory over the Montreal Impact at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. Daniel Royer scored the game’s only goal, right on the hour mark, when it was beginning to look like a breakthrough would never come, for either side. That’s 13 games without a loss for Jesse Marsch’s side (just six wins), who along with the other two sides on 48 points, has secured a place in the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs berth.

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — 4 teams can clinch playoff berth this weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Piatti blazes wide after a long run — Ignacio Piatti did brilliantly until the finish. He also had Drogba making the underneath run to the far post.

41′ — Bush denies Royer from inside the six — Royer got on the end of this Chris Duvall cross, and had he put it either side of Evan Bush, he’d have made it 1-0 to the home team.

60 ‘ — Royer heads it past Bush to break the deadlock — Duvall once again served up the tantalizing ball from the right flank, and Royer did the rest to bag his first MLS goal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Daniel Royer

Goalscorers: Royer (60′)

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 1-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Toronto FC's Jozy Altidore, center, shields the ball from Philadelphia Union's Richie Marquez, left, as Ken Tribbett looks on during first half MLS soccer action in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): Another week goes by, and the world remains clueless with regard to the top three places in MLS’s Eastern Conference. Toronto FC entered the weekend with a two-point lead on the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC; then, NYCFC won big on Friday to go a point ahead. With RBNY still to face the Montreal Impact on Saturday, all three sides could finish the weekend on 48 points, a three-way tie atop the East, following TFC’s 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union at BMO Field. The home side went down a goal in the first half, via Alejandro Bedoya’s firt MLS goal — a chipped beauty (WATCH HERE) — before Justin Morrow played the role of unlikely hero, snatching TFC’s equalizer in the 70th minute. Saturday’s game marked TFC’s third without Sebastian Giovinco (quad/adductor injuries). TFC have won five of a possible nine points without the reigning — soon-to-be-back-to-back? — MLS MVP.

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — 4 teams can clinch playoff berth this weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

25′ — Bedoya chips Irwin for 1-0 — It was just about the most difficult route to goal, but Bedoya wasn’t fazed one bit. Poor Clint Irwin, he was hardly even off his line. (WATCH HERE)

43′ — Irwin makes the point-blank save on Herbers — Reaction saves from point-blank range don’t get much better than this one by Irwin. Keeping his side in it.

70′ — Morrow slots home to bring TFC level — Jonathan Osorio did brilliantly to keep his composure with ample opportunity to take a difficult shot toward goal. Instead, he played Morrow through, and the full back finished the chance like a world-class striker.

90+3′ — Altidore hacked down in the box, no PK given — Ismail Elfath had long ago swallowed his whistle, apparently, because Jozy Altidore was hacked down inside the penalty area by C.J. Sapong, and TFC were absolutely bewildered by the no-call.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Alejandro Bedoya

Goalscorers: Bedoya (25′), Morrow (70′)