Previous Meeting: 1-0 L
Overall Record Against Dash: 3-1-0
Three straight losses and no wins in five matches. That’s the streak that Portland Thorns FC is looking to end in the final match Saturday before the NWSL break for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Their opponent? The team that started that streak of three consecutive defeats, the Houston Dash.
Meeting for the second time in less than a month, the Thorns are still reeling from the 1-0 defeat at home the Dash. Former Portland forward Jessica McDonald scored the lone goal in that one, as she sits near the top of the goal-scoring charts with four goals, tied with Thorns midfielder Allie Long among others. Houston then locked it down defensively, as Portland struggled to create clear opportunities. It was the fourth-straight 1-0 result between the two teams, though the Thorns had come out ahead in the previous three meetings before this season.
Portland’s offense hasn’t been clicking and a series of defensive errors has cost the team important points while the internationals are gone for the World Cup. Passes are just far enough off that it hampers the offensive flow and stray passes and touches in the defensive third have led to clear goals. A gifted goal now and again actually shouldn’t be a huge issue for a team with the kind of attacking creativity the Thorns possess. Even before midfielder Sinead Farrelly notched her first goal and assist for Portland, the Thorns had the likes of Long, Mana Shim, Kendall Johnson and McCall Zerboni looking to contribute offensively. It all seemed to go right in the season opener against the Boston Breakers, but has since fallen off the track.
The ray of sunshine in a record-setting gloom is that Ayo Añonma found the net for the first time last weekend in a 2-1 road loss to the Washington Spirit. It was the first goal in two games for the Thorns and their first lead in five matches. Though used as an outside midfielder and a forward since joining the team, a good amount of expectation has been put on Ayo to produce offensively to fill the gap left by Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan. While Long continues to create chances, she can’t carry the load alone. Shim roared out of the gates with three assists to start the season, which still sees her tied for thesecond most assists in the league. and hopefully amateurs Sarah Jackson and Kelsey Haycook can find the net themselves when given the chance and head coach Paul Riley continues to give them minutes.
The final three points before the World Cup break are up for grabs Saturday night. The Thorns need them just as much as they might need the chance to regroup a bit and smooth out some of the bumps that have been pestering them the last few weeks. The pressure is building on this team and it’s a massive opportunity to regain confidence and show that a bad streak won’t get the better of this team. A Houston side that just handed them a loss provides a great opportunity to remind the Portland fans and the league that the Thorns are still a force that can’t be taken lightly.
Key Factors: Portland will really want to get some momentum back ahead of the World Cup break. Confidence has taken a big hit in recent weeks, as mistakes cost valuable points. The Thorns went to Houston twice and come away with wins last season. Añonma scored her first Thorns goal last week and hopefully that will kick start the Thorns offensive production, though expect Houston to play very defensively again and to bunker down if they get a goal first. McDonald’s speed will again be a danger, but she’s not the only threat. Portland will need to limit the service into the box especially to keep the Dash’s opportunities limited.