NWSL: Spirit without Krieger for Reign showdown

The NWSL moves into the playoffs with both semifinals on Sunday. Seattle Reign FC, the runaway winner of the regular-season championship, will host the Washington Spirit, while defending champion FC Kansas City will travel to the Chicago Red Stars for their game at Toyota Field, home of MLS's Chicago Fire. Both games will air on Fox Sports 1.

SEATTLE-WASHINGTON. The Seattle-Washington game is a repeat of their 2014 semifinal won by Reign FC, 2-1, on midfielder Megan Rapinoe's late goal.

The Reign comes into Sunday's game with an eight-game unbeaten streak (seven wins and one tie) and finished undefeated at home in the regular season for the second season in a row.

Besides U.S. Women's World Cup goalkeeper Hope Solo and Rapinoe, Seattle features the deepest team in the NWSL. Defender Kendall Fletcher, Jess Fishlock and Kim Little were 2014 Best XI picks and all will get serious consideration in 2015. Little (10 goals and 7 assists), Beverly Yanez (9 goals), Fishlock (8 goals, 2 assists) and Rapinoe (5 goals, 5 assists) leads an attack that has averaged 2.6 goals per game at home.

Seattle also comes into the game with the second-ranked defense in the league, featuring Lauren Barnes, Stephanie Cox, Rachel Corsie and Fletcher in front of Solo and Keelin Winters, one of the NWSL's top two-way midfielders.

No player has had a better year in the NWSL, though, than the Spirit's second-year forward Crystal Dunn, winner of the 2015 Golden Boot with 15 goals -- one shy of matching Little's NWSL record set in 2014 -- and the favorite for the MVP award. Support for Dunn will come from Christine Nairn (5 goals, 4 assists), Canadian international Diana Matheson (3 goals, 2 assists), Nigerian forward Francisca Ordega (3 goals, 2 assists) as well as Amanda DaCosta (3 goals).

U.S. Women's World Cup backup keeper Ashlyn Harris will be in goal, but she will be without U.S. teammate Ali Krieger, who will be at her father Ken’s wedding this weekend in Virginia. The Spirit has survived without Krieger before. She played only eight of 20 games in 2015.

The Washington backline features Megan Oyster, one of the top candidates for Rookie of the Year. The UCLA product is the only Spirit player who played every minute in 2015.

CHICAGO-FC KANSAS CITY. The other semifinal is loaded with U.S. Women's World Cup stars -- Christen Press, Julie Johnston and Lori Chalupny for the Red Stars and Amy Rodriguez, Becky Sauerbrunn, Heather O'Reilly and retiring Lauren Holiday for FCKC.

The top scorers for Chicago and Kansas City are Press (10 goals) and Rodriguez (6 goals), respectively, even though both were limited to 11 appearances.

When the Red Stars were without their World Cup stars in mid-season, rookies Sofia Huerta (6 goals, 3 assists), Danielle Colaprico (lone player to start all 20 games) and Arin Gilliland came up big to keep them near the top of the standings. They got a great season out of Vanessa DiBernardo, who had a team-high five assists. Sunday's game will mark the final home appearance for Red Stars keeper Karin LeBlanc, who announced plans to retire after a career that spanned 17 years in goal for Canada.

Rookie Shea Groom and Yael Averbuch rank second behind Rodriguez on FCKC with four goals apiece. The supporting cast on the defending champs also features longtime national team players Nicole Barnhart in goal (0.94 GAA) and Amy LePeilbet (20 starts).
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