Preview: Portland Thorns (a).
Updated: Jul 16, 2021
When? Sunday July 18, 7:30 p.m. PT, 10:30 p.m. ET and 3:30 a.m. BST (19/7).
Where? Providence Park, Portland, OR.
How can I catch the action? The game will be broadcast on Twitch for both domestic and international supporters.
Whilst much of the WoSo Twitterverse are pre-occupied by the Tokyo Olympics, you could be forgiven for forgetting that there is a round of NWSL fixtures this weekend. I'll never understand why the NWSL doesn't break for these big international tournaments. I mean nothing helps a league to grow like sending your biggest stars away for large chunks of the regular season, right? If I wanted half a product, I'd watch the Harry Potter movies. Seriously, how much did they cut from the books? Anyway, there's soccer to talk about so let's crack on with it. Come on, pip, pip.
Even the most casual of NWSL observer would be able to tell you that the Thorns are one of the most exciting teams in the league, both on and off the field. The atmosphere at Providence Park is as good as at any stadium in the whole sport of soccer. Their bi-partisan support is like a twelfth man or woman for the Timbers and Thorns. Jodie Taylor spoke, in the week (see video below), about the atmosphere in Portland. Their crowd gives them added impetus when on the attack. And they do that a lot...
The Portland Thorns, still, are one of the best teams in this league offensively speaking; they're joint league leaders in the scoring charts and top the shooting charts. The Thorns have clocked 145 shots overall, with 69 being on frame. Their conversion rate of 12% is nothing to be trifled with. This is an attack that's to be respected, and is more than capable of punishing any errors. This is reflected in their XG ratings, which stand at 1.79 overall and 2.15 at home. The Pride are going to have to guard really well against the transition. We all know Orlando prefer the direct, transitional approach; whereas the Thorns are a little more measured. They can steal the ball, and with the help of their vociferous crowd, make teams pay.
Much like Orlando, Portland have a number of key absences (there's a shock, great planning NWSL). Tyler Lussi continues to sit on the sidelines with her hip injury. Hannah Betfort is listed as questionable. Meanwhile Crystal Dunn, Adrianna Franch, Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair and Becky Sauerbrunn are away on international duty. Decent 5-a-side team there, right?
Orlando, similarly have a number of absentees. Marisa Viggiano and Phoebe McClernon are expected to travel with the squad, but are still doubtful; as is Ali Krieger.* Jade Moore will definitely sit this one out, with the game against OL Reign a more likely target for her. Alex Morgan, Ali Riley, Erin McLeod and Marta are all away on international duty.
*EDIT: the injury report has been updated, and Ali Krieger has been removed. She is back in training so could be available.
Possible starting XI
I wouldn't expect wholesale changes to the team that battled to a draw against Gotham. In fact, I mightn't expect many at all. I can see Sophia Smith coming in, and Mark Parsons reverting to a 4-3-3. This system allows Meghan Klingenberg and Natalia Kuika to attack the space down the flanks. The formation will also allow them to go toe-to-toe with the Pride, who are also likely to set up in a similar fashion. As such I am predicting the following line-up from the Thorns:
The 20-year-old forward has had something of a bit part role this season, only featuring from the start on 3 occasions, making a further 4 appearances from the bench mainly due to fitness issues. I think her role is about to take on more significance. With Lindsey Horan missing from the team, there could be something of a reshuffle in their forward line. Whilst Smith is by no means a direct replacement, I'd be surprised if the popular playmakers' absence didn't lead to more game time for Smith. With 2 goals on the season, from 18 shots, the young forward boasts an 11.1% conversion rate. She's also had a positive creative impact on the team, with 4 key passes. She'll be keen to put her injury woes behind her and re-establish herself as the starting forward
Portland reacted relatively well to their defeat in Orlando, winning 4 out of their next 6 games to move to 5-1-3 on the season and thus consolidating themselves in the race for top spot. The Thorns currently occupy 3rd spot, one place further back from Orlando due to the Pride holding the head-to-head advantage.
Orlando, meanwhile, arrested their mini-slump with an encouraging draw against Racing Louisville last time out. The 2nd placed Pride are currently 4-4-2 on the season, though they are winless through their last 3 games. The performance against Louisville showed plenty of promise, reinforcing the belief that Orlando are the real deal this season.
Jodie Taylor interview courtesy of @AreaSportsNet on Twitter.
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