NWSL preview: Westfield Matildas trio eyeing spot on top of ladder

Hayley Raso, Ellie Carpenter and Caitlin Foord will be celebrating going top of the National Women’s Soccer League if Portland Thorns can clinch three points on the road against Utah Royals on Saturday.

Recording only two wins from their first five matches, the NWSL powerhouses Portland slipped as low as sixth place before a run of four wins and two draws from the next seven have left Mark Parson’s side in a great position to challenge for title honours.

PORTLAND: Westfield Matildas reflect on their FIFA Women's World Cup 2019™ memories
NWSL NEWS: Kellond-Knight joins Matildas teammates at Washington Spirit

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The 2016 NWSL shield winners have been forced to settled for second in the regular season in the past two campaigns and, with current defending champions North Carolina Courage and Reign FC well in the hunt, this year’s title is still wide open.

Currently in second place and level on points with Courage, a win for Portland’s Westfield Matildas trio will put some pressure on the 2018 double-winners heading into the second-half of the season.

Standing in Portland’s way are the fifth-placed Utah Royals, who are the league's lowest scorers with just eight in 11 fixtures, and are fighting to remain in touch with the finals series positions.

With the United States' FIFA Women’s World Cup heroes returning across the league this weekend, Becky Sauerbrunn and Christen Press will return for Utah, while Portland will get the likes of Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan back in action.

Utah Royals v Portland Thorns, Saturday 20 July 12pm AEST

Can Kerr do Westfield Matildas teammates a favour?

North Carolina may need a win to keep pace with Portland but a trip to Chicago to wrap up the round is a daunting prospect.

Westfield Matildas skipper Sam Kerr has been on blistering form for the Red Stars this season, notching nine goals in nine games.

Even when the two-time NWSL Golden Boot winner is not firing, Chicago are capable of getting the job done as they showed in their 1-0 win at Houston Dash last week.

Chicago’s form has been up and down of late. The sixth-place outfit need a result to stay in touch with the front-runners.

Chicago Red Stars v North Carolina Courage, Monday 22 July 8am AEST

Will Kellond-Knight make her Spirit bow?

Washington Spirit host Houston having added another Aussie to their ranks.

Elise Kellond-Knight was acquired in a mid-season trade with Reign FC and the 109-cap Westfield Matilda will join her compatriots Chloe Logarzo and Amy Harrison in coach Richie Burke’s squad.

Whether Kellond-Knight will be ready to make her debut in DC is yet to be revealed. If she does, she is likely to face off against Clare Polkinghorne and Kyah Simon in the Dash line up.

Houston are looking to arrest a seven-match winless streak and keep themselves in the finals picture. Fourth-placed Spirit are aiming to lock down their own finals place.

Washington Spirit v Houston Dash, Sunday 21 July, 9am AEST

Pride seeking to turn efforts into points

It’s been a roller-coaster couple of weeks for Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond at Orlando Pride.

The Florida side were on a high after a thrilling 4-3 victory against Washington two weeks ago, and followed it up with a crushing stoppage-time defeat to Portland by the exact same score last time out.

Bottom-of-the-ladder Sky Blue FC are Orlando’s opponents, but they are coming off back-to-back wins. With the two clubs level on points, the loser of this one could be cut adrift at the foot of the NWSL.

Orlando Pride v Sky Blue, Sunday 21 July, 9.30am AEST