Preview: Portland Thorns (h).
Wednesday May 26, 4 p.m. PT, 7 p.m. ET and 00:00 BST (27/5).
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? The game will be broadcast on Twitch, for residents of the United States and Canada as well as for international fans.
It's Monday and I'm writing a preview, guess what that means? Midweek football! Or not, in the case of the Orlando Pride. According to Paul Riley we don't play a whole lot of that. Salty, much? Riley's comments, are what we call 'mardy' here in Nottingham. Basically he threw his toys out of the stroller. Orlando did an excellent job of disrupting their pretentious hosts. I use the word pretentious, because his comments smack of someone who believes his team have a God-given right to be allowed to play their game. Well, guess what? The Orlando Pride isn't a team that will allow you to do that. Our direct style mightn't be easy on the eye for the purists, but it's damn effective.
Orlando will want to serve up more of the same on Wednesday evening, as they welcome a Portland Thorns side that will undoubtedly be licking its wounds. Megan Rapinoe and co. seemed to upset our visitors locals as OL Reign ran out victorious, during a keenly contested Cascadia derby. Make no mistake, though. This is a very strong Portland side, who could run us over if we allow them to play. So, you've got the go ahead to not play football Orlando. Do what must be done, do not hesitate, show no mercy. God, I love Revenge of the Sith.
Anyone who knows anything about women's soccer, in the United States, will attest to this fact; the Portland Thorns are the benchmark. Woah! Controversial, I know. But, is it though? It's not. As Megan Rapinoe said in her post-match comments over the weekend; 'Thorns are always assholes, everyone hates them. That's the general vibe.' You only get that sort of reputation, when you occupy a position of strength. As the USWNT skipper later alluded to, they have tremendous fans, a great stadium... and they're a bloody good team, with some top-quality players in their ranks.
They also have an established way of playing, they will play on the front foot, dominate possession and will pepper the opposition's goal. If they are allowed to do so, that is. And that's exactly what has happened in their 2 games of the regular season thus far. In both games they have been allowed to have around 60% of the overall play and have converted that into over 20 shots on goal in each fixture (figures 1 and 2). They are always liable to dominate possession, but if you keep your defensive shape and don't allow them time to get shots off, you have a chance. The Houston Dash, limited them to just 14 shots on goal and won a whopping 46 duels and 18 tackles, during their recent 1-1 draw. Deny them the space, and you can stop them.
Figure 1 shows Portland's possession based statistics from their win over Chicago Red Stars.
Figure 2 shows Portland's possession based statistics from their defeat to OL Reign.
In short, they're a possession based outfit. How do Orlando stop it? Well, there's no easy solution. They have so many quality players, it's almost an impossible question. But it definitely helps to shutdown Lindsey Horan. The former PSG midfielder was superb in the recent win over Chicago; she amassed a whopping 70 passes, at a pass completion rate of 81.4% (figure 3). Horan also gets everywhere. She really makes this team tick, and does an excellent job of linking the defence, to the midfield, to the attack. Just take a look at her pass positioning matrix (figure 4) if you don't believe me. Oh, you do believe me? Cool. She created 2 chances, and also did her fair share of work on the defensive side of the ball. Horan won 2 tackles, and 21 recoveries. Anyone with even the tiniest bit of footballing knowledge, knows that Horan is an absolute baller. Orlando must find a way to stop her.
Figure 3 shows Lindsey Horan's overall statistics from the game against Chicago, whole 90.
Figure 4 shows Lindsey Horan's pass positioning matrix from their win over Chicago, whole 90.
It could very well be a case of 'as you were' for the Thorns. The league has yet to release an injury report for the visitors. Nor has the local press, in Portland. They had all of their big hitters available for the game against OL Reign, so I would expect that to be the case in Orlando.
As for the Pride, Jade Moore sat out the win over the Courage, but could be fit for this one. Erika Tymrak and Ali Riley are available after their respective knocks. Riley came through the game in North Carolina, without any issues. Ashlyn Harris was rested for the game, but could be involved on Wednesday. Marc Skinner has said to expect rotation, as the Pride face the second of 2 games in 3 days.
Possible starting XI
Whilst I don't see the Thorns making wholesale changes to the XI that lost to the Reign, I can see some rotation occuring. The Thorns will want some fresh legs, but still want to keep the majority of their big hitters in the starting XI. I think Christine Sinclair and Sophia Smith will start, with Tyler Lussi providing fresh legs in attack. I can also see Angela Salem coming in to counter Orlando's creativity in midfield. Outgoing head coach Mark Parsons prefers the 4-3-3, but don't be surprised to see them revert to a 4-2-3-1 if things aren't going their way. This allows them to push Lindsey Horan into the 10, and allow her to work her magic.
A player that needs little introduction. The USWNT star is the shining light for this Portland Thorns squad. She's started the season in reasonably good form, having scored 1 goal in her 3 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup outings. She totalled 270 minutes throughout the 3 games. Horan has always been known for the attacking side of her game, and her creativity. Her defensive work often goes unnoticed, however. During the Challenge Cup, she won 5 of her 6 tackles, completed 2 clearances and 3 interceptions. She has carried that form into the regular season, winning 1 tackle, completing 4 clearances and 1 interception. She's yet to get on the score sheet in the regular season, but that won't last for long. She's a playmaker with exceptional close control, and a keen eye for a pass. She's also haunted Orlando in the past, scoring 4 career goals against the Pride. Orlando will have to get to grips with her, if they're going to pull off another big result.
Portland's recent home defeat to OL Reign, succeeded a 5-0 thrashing of the Chicago Red Stars. The Thorns are 1-0-1 through 2 home games in the regular season. Prior to that, the Thorns enjoyed a blistering Challenge Cup campaign. Portland were 3-1-0 on their way to the final, where they beat out Gotham 6-5 on penalties. Their loss to a Megan Rapinoe inspired Reign, could well mean that Orlando is facing a wounded animal in this one.
Orlando are currently 1-1-0 on the season, having gone unbeaten in their last 4 games across all competitions. Their win over the North Carolina Courage has provided many fans with a palpable sense of optimism. Sat pretty in 2nd spot, Marc Skinner's team will fancy their chances against a top quality Portland side.
*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com