Hold onto your hats. The Girls in Red host the Orlando Pride today at 12:30, the first of two NWSL semifinals to decide who heads to Orlando next week for the championship match. This is a matchup between the league’s strongest defense, anchored by Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, and Katherine Reynolds, and its best offense, led by Alex Morgan and Marta. Both sides come into the weekend with excellent records in the latter half of the season—the Thorns are 9-1-1 since playing North Carolina on July 15, while Orlando is undefeated in the last nine matches.
Let’s get down to business, shall we?
From our match preview:
Perhaps the most pleasant dilemma Mark Parsons has to face is choosing his starters for this Saturday.
The regular starting Thorns are, in the main, healthy, and the starting XI against Chicago would be easy to pencil in again. But based on their second-half appearances against Chicago on Saturday, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Tobin Heath, and Allie Long could also fit into the starting XI easily.
The defense seems set; A.D. Franch is a lock to start in goal, and even Klingenberg—who had the roughest time in Orlando—still has to be considered a sure start over any of the bench players.
In the midfield Horan seems a given, and it’s hard to imagine not starting Sinclair, so the real question is: does Heath start over Henry? I think that depends on whether Parsons is more worried about conceding goals or scoring them.
In Orlando, the Thorns looked unlikely to score for most of the match. Heath’s entrance made the Portland attack look more dangerous, and if the Thorns have had a real shortcoming this season it has been making goals, not denying them.
So. If it was up to me I would go with Heath and hope to score early. That, in turn, makes the choice of starting forwards a trifle tricky.
Despite her gaudy PMR, a lot of Nadim’s value in Orlando was defensive, and if Parsons’ intent is to go a goal up quickly, I’m not sure she’s the weapon of choice. A front line of Brynjarsdottir left, Raso central, and Sykes right might create more chances.
On the other hand, leaving Henry out of midfield might make having a tough two-way player like Nadim up front more appealing.
Still, all things considered, that’s a good problem to have.
From our colleagues at The Mane Land:
Orlando Pride (4-3-3)
Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris.
Defenders: Steph Catley, Ali Krieger, Monica, Kristen Edmonds.
Midfielders: Alanna Kennedy, Marta, Dani Weatherholt.
Forwards: Chioma Ubogagu, Alex Morgan, Rachel Hill.
Bench: Aubrey Bledsoe, Toni Pressley, Danica Evans, Nickolette Driesse, Jamia Fields, Jasmyne Spencer, Jo Blankenship.
How to Watch
Match Time: 12:30 p.m. PT
Venue: Providence Park in Portland, OR
Streaming: NWSLSoccer.com or the Lifetime app