Portland Thorns FC square off against the Washington Spirit for the second time this season Saturday night, this time heading out to the east coast for the first of consecutive away matches before the NWSL break for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Thorns are coming off consecutive losses and haven’t won a match since their 1-0 win at home against the Western New York Flash on April 18th, a run of four games.
Although the Thorns are unbeaten in six all-time matches (4-0-2) against the Spirit, the last two meetings have ended in draws. On May 9th, Portland clawed back from a two-goal deficit to finish the game 2-2, though midfielder Allie Long missed a penalty kick in the second half that could have secured the win. However, Long will feel more confident against the Spirit, having scored in two of the last three matches against the Spirit. Midfielders Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly have also gotten onto the score sheet earlier this year and continue to provide assists since their opening strikes. The versatility to provide and score is something that has made the Thorns attack at times devastating, but in the end, the goal is the most important thing.
Portland’s last win against the Spirit was a big one though and it happened on the road. A 6-1 victory at Maureen Hendricks Field Maryland SoccerPlex on June 21, 2014 saw both Alex Morgan and Jessica McDonald register braces, with Christine Sinclair and Long added a goal each. In total, the Thorns have outscored the Spirit 13-5 and 9-3 when visiting Washington. Portland will be desperate to be on the attack from the first whistle after being held scoreless in their last two losses. Late game dominance has been a feature of the Thorns season so far, but it hasn’t necessarily turned into goals or points.
Washington is coming off a 3-2 loss to the Flash after a narrow 1-0 win over Sky Blue FC. The Spirit have been led offensively by the combination of midfielder Christine Nairn and forward Crystal Dunn, with both causing problems for the Thorns when the Spirit visited the Rose City back in May. Together, Nairn and Dunn have tallied nine of Washington’s 12 goals this season. Dunn scored an early opener and gave the Spirit a strong counter-attacking option with her speed and determination to run at back-peddling defenders.
Key Factors: Portland needs to score and they need to score quickly to help settle down a bit. Two matches without a goal for a team that offers so much creativity in the attacking third is demoralizing, so the Thorns will want to set things right as quickly as possible and get their offensive flow going again.
Washington’s biggest threat is Dunn. Every time she got the ball in the second half on May 9, she was turning and running hard at defenders and was able to make space for shooting opportunities. If Portland can shut her down consistently, that will give them a lot more freedom and comfort to take risks offensively.
Players to Watch: Amateur forward Sarah Jackson has come within inches of her first-ever NWSL goal in the last two matches. If she continues to put herself in dangerous positions, that elusive goal can’t be too far away.