The Portland Thorns (8-7-6, 30pts) return home looking to put things back on track as they host Erin McLeod, Kealia Ohai, and the Houston Dash (5-11-3, 18pts) in their final (and only) meeting of the season at Providence Park on Sunday. The match is scheduled to kick off at 7:00pm PDT and will be televised on ESPN2, with Adrian Healey and Julie Foudy on the call.
The Thorns and Dash met twice earlier this season at BBVA Compass Stadium, a 1-0 Thorns victory in the first NWSL match for the Dash on April 12, with Allie Long scoring for Portland, and again on May 14, also a 1-0 victory for the Thorns, as Angie Kerr found Jessica McDonald in the 57th minute for the game winner.
The Thorns have put in some truly stunning performances this season, on both end of the spectrum, but none of them was more frustrating than the 5-0 loss at Seattle last Sunday. Going down early in the match, the Thorns simply never recovered and were eventually run over, as the Reign controlled possession and shredded a Portland defense that appeared to let in more balls than it stopped and an attack that could never break through the Seattle midfield, despite trotting out Jessica McDonald, Alex Morgan, and Christine Sinclair as their forward line in the second half.
If the loss wasn't bad enough though, Paul Riley revealed post game that Rachel Van Hollebeke had suffered a concussion in the first half, and she is listed as Out on this weekend's injury report, along with Sinead Farrelly, Tobin Heath, Courtney Niemeic, and Kat Tarr, leaving the Thorns once again extremely thin on defense, with defenders Stephanie Catley and Rebecca Moros all listed as Probable, along with midfielder Vero Boquete, an unfortunate string of injuries that occurred during the busiest part of the season for Portland. The Thorns played with only a recovering Moros available as a defensive substitution (who didn't appear), the same situation the Thorns find themselves in this match, though now without Van Hollebeke as well.
It could be fortunate that the Thorns have the Dash coming to town at this point of the season. They need every point they can possibly get, and the Dash have not proven to be much of a threat offensively this season, only scoring 21 while allowing 34. If the Thorns find some more of their Providence Park magic and run up the score against the Dash, they will do well to create further separation from themselves and the Red Stars with a couple of weeks remaining in the regular season and hosting a playoff match remaining a slight possibility.
The Dash come into this match with the slimmest of playoff chances, not the season that Randy Waldrum envisioned for his expansion side coming into the season, as they come into this match with one win in their last 7 (1-4-2) and have struggled on the offensive side of the ball all season. Tiffany McCarty and Ohai leading Houston in Scoring with 4 each, while Ella Masar and Teresa Noyola sitting on 3 goals.
While the Dash have 5 victories on the season, they are all against the teams on the bottom of the table, while they are 0-10-3 against teams at the top, having had a level of success on the road, going 3-3-2 away from BBVA Compass Stadium, but have not won on the road since June 7 against Sky Blue FC, a stretch of nearly two months.
The Dash were on a 3 match unbeaten streak (0-0-3) until they lost 4-1 to the Reign on Wednesday, with the highlight for them coming out of that match was Ohai netting her fourth goal of the season, her third in four matches, but the Dash were otherwise overrun in Seattle, giving up early goals in both halves and sending them down I-5 on the verge of elimination.
Despite the Thorns being undefeated against the league newcomers, it was the Dash who looked to be the stronger side at times, particularly in their first meeting that saw the Thorns use a quick restart and a long throw-in to secure the victory and needing a penalty kick save early in the second half by Nadine Angerer to kick start their play in the second meeting. The pesky attack of the Dash, while not producing goals, created some very nervy moments for the Thorns on defense, but the Dash have also yet to face a full strength Thorns attack in either of their meetings this season, though on the other side of the ball, the Thorns have yet to face the Dash with both Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg in the lineup.
While this match is important for both sides, as the Thorns look to secure a meeting with FC Kansas City (with a slim chance of hosting the semifinal) and the Dash looked to not be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, this match also serves as a kick off to MLS All-Star Week, with the Thorns trying to get a sellout at Providence Park and ESPN2 broadcasting the game. When the Thorns were last on ESPN2, they out on a show against the Breakers in their 6-3 victory on July 20, and since both sides have seemed to have given up on playing defense, this should be another exciting match for the local and national audiences.
Thorns Keys to the Match
Start Out Strong - The Thorns recent success has come from putting the opponent on their heels, a problem they have had in their earlier meetings with the Dash. With a defense that continues to look more suspect in each match, they need to put the Dash away early in the match, especially if the Dash try to pick at the Thorns and try to take control.
Wide Play - Playing on the narrow pitch in Seatlle, the Thorns couldn't get an attack generated as they tried to move the ball through the midfield, which particularly affected the wide play of Stephanie Catley, who has been a catalyst in their recent scoring outbursts. Returning to a wider field should allow the Thorns to bring back this dangerous element of the attack and create increased pressure on the Dash defense.
Tighten up the Defense - When the Thorns met the Dash earlier in the season, defense was their strength. Since their last meeting however, this story has flipped and a unit that was once leading the league is now in the middle of the pack. With the Thorns lacking defensive substitutions, it will be especially important for the them to not give the Dash the easy opportunities they have given up as of late.
Portland Thorns vs. Houston Dash
Sunday, August 3, 2014 at 7:00pm PDT
Providence Park - Portland, Oregon