It could be a case of out of the frying pan into a Sam Kerr-stoked fire for Clare Polkinghorne when her Houston Dash side come up against the Chicago Red Stars in Sunday morning’s National Women’s Soccer League clash (kick-off 10.30am AEST).
Polkinghorne played her first match in Dash colours since the Westfield Matildas' FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign in a 5-2 loss to North Carolina Courage last Saturday.
Australian teammate Kyah Simon scored an excellent goal, but it was a defeat that leaves Houston in seventh position, and with Sunday’s opponents Chicago (sixth) just one point ahead of them on the ladder, the clash at BBVA Compass Stadium looms as a decisive one in the race for the playoffs.
FIFA WOMEN'S WORLD CUP™: Matildas crowned Australia’s most-loved team
To make the fixture all the more intriguing, Polkinghorne’s main assignment will be keeping national team colleague Kerr quiet.
It could be a huge task for the Brisbane Roar stalwart, with Kerr’s Red Stars arriving into the contest following a shock 1-0 loss to Sky Blue last time out.
While Polkinghorne, Simon and Kerr will battle for three points in their NWSL finals race, Steph Catley, Lydia Williams and Elise Kellond-Knight of Reign FC are set to take part in the weekend’s other standout fixture: a second versus first match-up against the North Carolina Courage on Sunday morning (9.00am AEST kick-off).
With Williams and Kellond-Knight uninvolved, Catley was on hand to help the Seattle-based club to the NWSL summit after their 1-0 triumph over Portland Thorns last weekend, but their title credentials will be put under the microscope against a North Carolina side menacingly moving through the gears.
The Courage – who took out the NWSL Shield and Championship in 2018 – have been hit hard by their World Cup absentees in 2019, but still find themselves one point adrift of leaders Reign prior to Sunday morning’s fixture in North Carolina.
Portland Thorns were leapfrogged by the Reign because of that 1-0 loss last weekend, but they’ll want to be in prime position to capitalise on dropped points in Monday morning’s (5.00am AEST kick-off) date with Orlando Pride.
Ellie Carpenter, Hayley Raso and Caitlin Foord all received match minutes in that defeat – Portland’s first in six matches - and given the fine margins at stake in the title race, the Thorns know they cannot afford another slip up at home to eight-place Pride.
Orlando will prove tricky customers too. The Pride have struggled for form in 2019 but enter riding the high of a 4-3 victory over Washington Spirit last Sunday.
Aussie duo Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond played their first 90 minutes since the World Cup in that seven-goal thriller, in which they notched bragging rights over Spirit pairing Chloe Logarzo and Amy Harrison.
WOMEN'S WORLD CUP: Australia launches distinctive logo for 2023 bid
The round kicks off with Sky Blue and Utah Royals locking horns on Saturday morning at 9.30am AEST. Utah have dropped into fifth position after failing to find a win in their past two – but they’re only three points adrift of ladder-topping Reign FC.
Utah cannot afford to be complacent against Sky Blue, who achieved their first win of the campaign and just their second in 34 league matches, by shocking Kerr’s Chicago last weekend.