The Portland Thorns (8-6-5, 29pts) travel to Boyds, Maryland to take on the Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, and the Washington Spirit (8-8-3, 27pts) at the Maryland SoccerPlex on July 23 at 4:00pm PDT, in a match with significant playoff implications.
The Thorns and Spirit have met twice the season, a home and home series that saw the Thorns defeat the Spirit 2-0 in Portland on June 15 and again 6-1 on June 21 in Maryland. The Thorns are undefeated at 4-0-0, outscoring the Spirit 12-2 in the series.
The Thorns once again put on a show for the home fans at Providence Park, defeating the Boston Breakers 6-3 in a match that saw them come from behind multiple times in the first half, before Christine Sinclair capped her hat trick (and Player of the Week performance) 33 seconds into the second half, while Alex Morgan and Jessica McDonald put the match out of reach.
As it is for every match in July, the Thorns must look to preserve player's legs and rotate this squad, though with a growing injured list, options are becoming increasingly limited. Tobin Heath will be out for at least two weeks, according to Paul Riley following Sunday's match, while Sinead Farrelly, Rebecca Moros, and Courtney Niemiec are all listed as out for the match and Kat Tarr was neither listed on the injury report last weekend, nor was she available for selection.
With the roster shortened once again, especially on the defensive end, the Thorns should look to press from the onset, as they have in their recent matches, since their lack of defensive substitutes could give them problems later in the match. An early goal or three would serve the Thorns well in putting the Spirit away early and relieve some of the pressure on themselves, with the added benefit of likely ensuring themselves of not only 3 points, but also increasing their goal differential and further separation on the table against the team just behind them in the standings.
Things haven't been horrible, but they also haven't been great since the Spirit last met the Thorns. They have gone 2-1-2 since that meeting, but their loss came at the hands of Sky Blue FC on the road this past Sunday 4-2, as Sky Blue scored the first 4 goals, while the Spirit responded with goals by Jodie Taylor and Robin Gayle in the 88th and 89th minute, breaking the shutout and taking 2 goals off their negative goal differential, which currently stands at -8.
Washington has added a significant weapon since their mid-June meetings, as Kerstin Garefrekes, who has scored over 200 goals between her club and international careers. She has made 5 appearances (3 starts), though she has yet to find the back of the net, yet another weapon alongside Diana Matheson (7 goals) and Taylor (10 goals), though both players' scoring has cooled off recently.
The Spirit started out the season strong, but they have done little to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, only amassing 8 points from a possible 15 and have seen themselves drop from a secure position to make the playoffs to a fight with the Thorns, Red Stars, and Flash for the final two playoff spots. The Thorns could potentially put themselves out of reach with a victory in this match. The Spirit need a victory to keep themselves out of a potential positional tie, as their negative goal differential will do them no favors as it is the first tiebreaker.
The Thorns not only put on a show for the fans at Providence Park, but also a national audience as the Thorns match on ESPN2 reportedly outdrew Friday's Timbers match against Colorado. Beautiful triangular passing and ball movement, darting runs, McDonalds' nutmeg goal, and Sinclair's hat trick were among the many highlights from Sunday. The question is, on two days' rest, a short bench, and a cross country flight, how will the Thorns respond?
The only acceptable answer is that they put on a similar show as they did Sunday, a week ago Sunday, and in their last meeting with the Spirit, though without the defensive lapses. The Spirit come in going through a similarly congested schedule and will play their 4th match in 11 days, while the Thorns will be on their 4th match in 10 days, a schedule usually only seen in the youth and college levels or international tournaments. The Thorns remain an incredibly deep team, and this depth will once again be tested Wednesday evening.
Thorns Keys to the Match
Cover for your Defense - The last thing the Thorns need is to have to chase a match early, and they can't afford to show cracks early on the backline, especially with the lack of depth. On the Breakers two goals, the Thorns were caught playing in the attack, not leaving enough defenders back and forcing Nadine Angerer to come out of goals, which directly led to the second goal Sunday.
Press the Spirit Early, Often - in each of their last three matches, the Thorns have come out on the offensive, and it changed the tenor of the match. Even when they went down multiple times to the Breakers, they offense was in such a rhythm that it never felt like they were chasing the game.
Get in Harris' head - Ashlyn Harris can be brilliant at times, but she also has a temper that has gotten the better of her at time. While Boston's Alyssa Naeher looked cool in net despite giving up so many goals, the Spirit flat out gave up at the end of their last meeting with the Thorns (though Chantel Jones was in goal), and it's a good bet that if the Thorns convert some early chances this will become a factor in the match.
Portland Thorns at Washington Spirit
Wednesday July 23, 2014 at 4:00pm PDT
Maryland SoccerPlex - Boyds, Maryland