Preview: NWSL playoff games are today

FC Kansas City players hoist the NWSL championship trophy after beating the Seattle Reign 2-1 on Aug. 31, 2014. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Last year’s champ, this year’s playoff contender: FC Kansas City players hoist the NWSL championship trophy after beating the Seattle Reign 2-1 on Aug. 31, 2014. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

The four teams that made the playoffs in Season 3 of the National Women’s Soccer League take the field today (Sunday, Sept. 13).

nwsl-logoThe defending champions, FC Kansas City, visit the Chicago Red Stars. The Washington Spirit visit the Seattle Reign, the team with the best regular-season record this year.

All three playoff games will be on Fox Sports 1.

Today’s games at a glance:

Kansas City vs. Chicago

12:30 p.m. CT, Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

The Red Stars (8-3-9) are the No. 2 seed; FC KC (9-6-5) is No. 3.

This should be a close game between two evenly matched squads. Chicago’s potent offense is led by Christen Press, who is tied for second in the league in scoring, with 10 goals. With Julie Johnston on the back line, the defense has gotten better as the season progressed.

Christen Press

Christen Press

Kansas City enters the playoffs on a roll, with a five-game unbeaten streak. The lineup is strong from front to back, with Amy Rodriguez and Lauren Holiday up front; Yael Averbuch, Jen Buczkowski, Heather O’Reilly, and Sarah Hagen in the middle; and a back line of Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy LePeilbet, Becca Moros, Leigh Ann Robinson, and, in the net, Nicole Barnhardt. KC’s defense was the best in the league, conceding just 20 goals in 20 games.

Washington Spirit vs. Seattle Reign

8:30 p.m. CT, Memorial Stadium, Seattle.

The Reign (13-3-4) ran away with the regular season, finishing 10 points ahead of its closest rival. The Spirit (8-6-6) was the last team to qualify for the playoffs.

Perhaps the most astounding statistic about any of the teams playing today is this: Seattle has not lost a game at home in more than two years. This year, the Reign was 8-0-2 at Memorial Stadium. The Spirit, meanwhile, went 2-5-3 on the road.

Washington, however, was responsible for the worst Reign loss of the year, beating Seattle 3-0 on July 18 at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The Reign did not lose again, finishing the season with seven victories and a draw.

Seattle’s attack is led by Megan Rapinoe, Jess Fishlock, Beverly Yanez, and Kim Little, the 2014 scoring leader and regular season MVP. The Reign put up 41 goals this year. FC Kansas City was a distant second, nine goals back.

Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe

If Washington has a chance of pulling an upset, it could be on the boot of Crystal Dunn, the league’s leading scorer this year, with 15 goals. When paired with the speedy Dunn, Diana Matheson and Francisca Ordega, a Nigerian striker signed in March, can create headaches for opponents in the final third.

The Spirit will be without defender Ali Krieger, who is attending her father’s wedding.

The top two goalkeepers from the national team should be in action, Hope Solo for Seattle and Ashlyn Harris for Washington. Because of the World Cup, both missed most of the NWSL season, but they’re fully integrated into their respective teams now.

Ashlyn Harris (Gail Oskin/Getty Images) and Hope Solo (Seattle Reign)

Ashlyn Harris (Gail Oskin/Getty Images) and Hope Solo (Seattle Reign)

These same two teams squared off in a semifinal last year. Washington took a 1-0 lead in the 65th minute, only to concede two late goals and lose.

 

 

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