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International stars turn attention to NWSL playoffs
by Paul Kennedy, August 23rd, 2014 1:56AM
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[PREVIEW] The second NWSL season moves into the playoffs with a repeat of last year's semifinal matchup between Portland and FC Kansas City in one semifinal on Saturday and regular-season champion Seattle against Washington in a battle of the 2013 season's bottom two clubs on Sunday. The matches, which both air live on ESPN2, come just days after some of the league's biggest stars were on international duty.

NWSL SEMIFINALS, Schedule:
Saturday, August 23
1 pm ET
KC Kansas City vs. Portland, ESPN2
Sunday, August 24
11 pm ET
Seattle vs. Washington, ESPN2

SEATTLE-WASHINGTON. The Reign won its first seven games and never looked back, establishing a new mark by going unbeaten through its first 16 games before losing to the Chicago Red Stars on July 12. A loss to Portland on Sunday was only Seattle's season loss of the season. It set a league record for most points (54), most wins (16) and most goals (50).

Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo all started for the USA in its 4-1 win over Switzerland on Wednesday, but the big stars for the Reign have been a pair of newcomers, Scotswoman Kim Little (16 goals, 7 assists) and Japanese Nahomi "Naho" Kawasumi (9 goals, 5 assists). Jess Fishlock (4 goals, 8 assists) is also coming off of international duty, having played for Wales on Thursday.

Seattle won the first two meetings but Washington earned a 1-1 draw when they met two weeks ago Memorial Stadium. The Spirit had to wait until the final weekend of the season to qualify for the playoffs. It lost to Sky Blue FC, 1-0, but clinched when Chicago could only tie Western New York, 3-3.

Jodie Taylor (11 goals, 2 assists) is back after missing the Sky Blue FC game on national team duty for England, which became the second team to clinch a berth in next year's Women's World Cup when it beat Wales, 4-0, on Thursday. Other threats for the Spirit are Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson (8 goals, 6 assists) and Christine Nairn (6 goals, 2 assists), who spent last season with Seattle. Outside backs Ali Krieger and Crystal Dunn started for the USA against Switzerland.

FC KANSAS CITY-PORTLAND. The Thorns' 1-0 win over Seattle clinched a berth in the semifinals and set up a rematch with FC Kansas City. FC Kansas City blew a 2-0 lead after 25 minutes and eventually won, 3-2, on overtime on Allie Long's goal. Alex Morgan, whose goal beat Seattle, and Long also played in Wednesday's U.S. match in North Carolina.

FCKC comes into Saturday's match with an 8-0-4 record at home, including a 1-0 win over Seattle in their only match at Verizon Wireless Field. Its attack is one of the deepest in the NWSL with Amy Rodriguez, who finished second behind Little in the league with 13 goals, 2013 NWSL MVP Lauren Holiday (8 goals, 7 assists), Sarah Hagen (4 goals in 9 games after arriving from Bayern Munich) and Erika Tymrak (4 goals, 4 assists) were also key contributors. Becky Sauerbrunn, the NWSL's top defender in 2013, and Holiday were the two FCKC players to start for the USA against Switzerland.

Morgan's goal was her sixth in 14 games after missing the start of the season while rehabbing her injured ankle. The Thorns have plenty of other options with forwards Jessica McDonald (11 goals) and Christine Sinclair (7 goals), midfielder Veronica Boquete (4 goals, 6 assists) and Long (9 goals, 3 assists).

The Thorns' wins included a 7-1 victory over FC Kansas City in July. Portland also recorded 6-1 and 5-3 victories against other NWSL opposition, but a pair of 5-0 losses demonstrated you never know what to expect from the defending champions.

NWSL Final Standings:
PTS TEAM W-L-T GF/GA
54 *Seattle 16-2-6 50/20
41 *FC Kansas City 12-7-5 39/32
36 *Portland 10-8-6 39/35
35 *Washington 10-9-5 36/43
-----------------------------------------
35 Chicago 9-7-8 32/26
34 Sky Blue FC 9-8-7 30/37
28 Western NY 8-12-4 42/38
20 Boston 6-16-2 37/53
18 Houston 5-16-3 23/44
*Clinched playoff berths.

NWSL Leading Scorers:
G PLAYER, TEAM
16 Kim Little, Seattle
13 Amy Rodriguez, FC Kansas City
11 Jessica McDonald, Portland
11 Jodie Taylor, Washington
9 Samantha Kerr, Western NY
9 Allie Long, Portland
9 Nahomi Kawasumi, Seattle
9 Heather O'Reilly, Boston
8 Lauren Holiday, FC Kansas City
8 Diana Matheson
, Washington


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