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Match Preview: Portland Thorns FC vs. Washington Spirit

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Portland faces first test without internationals, puts unbeaten record on the line against the Spirit

Portland Thorns celebrate a goal during their 4-1 home win over the Boston Breakers in their 2015 NWSL season opener
Portland Thorns celebrate a goal during their 4-1 home win over the Boston Breakers in their 2015 NWSL season opener
Jeremiah Braeback

Last Meeting: 1-1 T @ WAS

Overall Record Against Washington: 4-0-1

So it begins. After months of speculation, planning and announcements, Portland Thorns FC (2-0-1, 7pts) is set to begin a stretch of games without the majority of its internationals. Players have been in and out of the squad already this season, but the Thorns will face off against the Washington Spirit (2-2, 6pts) more depleted than ever before this season. But there won’t be clouds of doom and gloom over Providence Park Saturday night. With a week of dedicated preparations and experience in situations like this before, the Thorns should certainly be confident of taking a third-straight home win over the Spirit.

To lay out the whole list, Portland will be missing their U.S., Canadian, Australian, and English internationals against the Spirit. Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath have joined the U.S. Women’s National Team camp. Kaylyn Kyle, Rhian Wilkinson, and Christine Sinclair are preparing to host the World Cup for Canada, while Jodie Taylor has joined the England National Team. Australian Steph Catley has yet to join the squad in 2015. It’s a big list, but Portland has been playing without a number of these players at different times this season. It’s par for the course with this squad. Two massive defensive boosts will be that Nadine Angerer will be available and Rachel Van Hollebeke wasn’t called up to the U.S. squad.

The Thorns will be missing important, quality players, but the Spirit may be missing even more vital contributors. Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and defender Ali Krieger will be away with the U.S. team, massive gaps in a defense that is tied for conceding the second-most goals this season. Forward Estefania Banini has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a right knee injury, but the team will have Crystal Dunn available, despite training with the U.S. squad this week. The Spirit’s offense has been clicking though as they are tied for the second-most goals scored so far, but will be taking on a full-strength Thorns defense at a venue the Spirit have never scored in. While Portland will be missing the tip of the spear in attack, the midfield has already shown great attacking intent and the Spirit’s weakened defense will have a tough time handling it.

The Thorns have outscored the Spirit 13-3 over five matches. A good advantage to have, except that 12 of those 13 goals have come from players that won’t be playing Saturday. The one remaining goal? Allie Long last season. Long has been on fire for Portland at home to start the season. Three goals in the last two games in the Rose City for the midfielder as Portland rides a six-match winning streak at Providence Park going back to last season.. Meanwhile Mana Shim has two goals and two assists on the season. Great numbers coming out of the midfield, while the defense has spoken for itself. The Thorns backline has conceded just three goals this season, the fewest in the league and just one at home. Portland has won the last two meetings with the Spirit at Providence Park, both by the score of 2-0.

Washington is a club that turned it around in 2014. After finishing dead last in 2013, the team jumped to fourth place and their first playoff appearance in 2014. They had the Seattle Reign on the ropes in their playoff meeting, nearly making it to the championship if it hadn’t been for a penalty save by Hope Solo and a late goal by Megan Rapinoe. Washington couldn’t take revenge last Saturday, falling 3-1 to the Reign in Seattle. The Spirit currently hold fourth place, but Portland will be very motivated to hang onto first place. The Thorns have had over a week to prepare after their bye last weekend, time to plan for the missing internationals. In their 4-1 win over Boston in the season opener, Portland’s mainstays for the season shone brightly. That’s who they’ll trust to keep their unbeaten record going.

Key Factors: Hopefully the Thorns are experiencing any kind of sharpness lag after a weekend without a match. Hopefully the time away has given the squad a bit of a rest and a chance to remind themselves of all they did brilliantly in the opening home games to put their draw with Chicago behind them and grab a third-straight win at Providence Park against Washington.

Kelsey Wys will most likely be in goal for the Spirit and she’ll be put to the test immediately. Christine Nairn is the playmaker and lynchpin for Washington, while Dunn has been crucial to the Spirit’s attack. Of the team’s seven goals, six have come from Nairn and Dunn, each with three.

Players to Watch: Earlier this week, Thorns head coach Paul Riley spoke about the amateur call ups and the impact they’ll have this season. Expect a few new faces on the bench, while Taylor Cormeau and Kelsey Haycook may be the most likely to see playing time.

Thorns Potential Lineup: Angerer, Menges, Williamson, Van Hollebeke, Johnson, Farrelly, Long, Cormeau, Zerboni, Shim, Terry

Cormeau made her first start for the Thorns in the 2-2 draw against Chicago and could make her second against the Spirit. Forward Hannah Terry hasn’t been seen yet this season, but may get her chance now with Taylor, Sinclair and Morgan setting their sights on the World Cup. Riley said the Van Hollebeke is healthy, while Johnson will continue to make her daring runs up and down the flanks.