Congratulations! You survived the Portland Thorns off season! At noon on Saturday, the Thorns will finally be back, and ready to play. In a repeat of the 2016 home opener, the Thorns will be playing the Orlando Pride.
The Orlando Pride has been dominating news cycles in NWSL circles for the last couple of weeks; ever since early March, when the Women's Soccer publication "WoSo Weekly" announced the signing of Marta, the buzz around the club has increased. When, on April 7th, the Orlando Pride confirmed that yes, they were going to get Marta, the excitement was palpable. Marta is the five time winner of the FIFA Player of the Year award, and has lead teams to championships throughout women's soccer all across the world. When the rosters dropped on Monday, however, it became clear that Marta was having some issues signing with the club. Sermanni said it was "doubtful" that she would play against Portland this Saturday. Listed, like Alex Morgan, as “out of market,” the exact timeline of Marta’s arrival remains unclear, though Orlando Pride fans seem hopeful that she’ll be . But, for the moment, it means that Portland will face an Orlando side without Morgan or Marta -- a side that still feels “in progress.”
Portland Thorns’ own roster feels more final. The Thorns start the season with an almost identical roster to 2016. For the second time in NWSL history, the Portland Thorns sign no rookies for their first roster. Despite Caroline Flynn’s solid performance at the Spring Invitational, as well as invitees Meghan Cox and Ellie Boon’s stalwart presence on the field, the Thorns opted to announce a 19 player roster with no newbies. There have been some injuries, however; Heath and Horan both sat out the Spring Invitational because of minor injuries. Although Parsons reported that Horan will be suiting up for the game, Heath would not be healthy enough to join the game. All other players on the current roster should be healthy, though.
It looks like Portland will be able to play their usual line up. During the Chicago game in the Spring Invitational, the Thorns played a 4-4-2. That’s most likely the lineup that Parsons will roll out again, with Franch in goal, Kling, Menges, Sonnett and Boureille securing the backline; Shim, Henry, Horan and Long in the midfield and Nadim and Sinclair up top. Nadim just spent some time with the Danish National team in a FIFA friendly against Finland, so she might be a second half substitute, with Weber starting. Weber played incredibly during the Spring Invitational, and as a result I would not be surprised if she made some impact on the game. Other subs I hope will see some actions include Meg Morris and Hayley Raso, both of whom have the pace and the energy to match Orlando’s backline.
Heath’s absence in the midfield will definitely be felt, but Thorns veteran Mana Shim will probably substitute for her. Shim doesn’t have Heath’s laser precision when it comes to set pieces, but she is an excellent box to box midfielder whose chemistry on the pitch is palpable. She works incredibly well with Horan, Henry and Long, whose work dominating the midfield and distributing the ball into empty space makes them a very dangerous attacking trio.
Orlando has made a lot of changes in the offseason. Other than signing Marta, the team also made some changes to their backline, and tightened up their midfield. Their goal in the 2016 home opener against the Thorns came from the feet of Australian National Team player Steph Cately, who is back with the team for the 2017 season. Orlando also acquired fan favorite defender Ali Krieger, who is a danger on the flanks, and brings some much needed stability and strength to the Pride’s backline. In the offseason shuffle, however, Orlando lost an important player; Alex Morgan is in France, playing for Lyon until June. Although she was unable to score a lot for the Pride in 2016, her presence on the field as a veteran and a captain was invaluable. I think her absence will have on field repercussions, especially since Orlando is fielding an incredibly young team right now. I expect this game to be high in fouls as a result.
In order to win, the Thorns backline needs to stay organized. Unforced errors like Franch’s bad pass during the U23 invitational can not happen. Menges and Sonnett have historically always controlled their backline well, and I think that’s crucial for a win behind the ball. During the preseason, Parsons also mentioned that he felt that his team was having trouble with the final conversion. The Thorns were able to maintain possession and distribute the ball well, but when it came to making that final kick, they were unable to. This was partially because of the amount of young players on the team; hopefully with Sinc on the field, there will be more shots on goal and more precise final passes.
In the end, I think that the Thorns, with a large roaring crowd, as well as the cameras of Lifetime TV behind them, can deliver exactly the type of game a girl needs after the long offseason drought. Tight passes, Amandine Henry the playmaker, and picking out Sinc in the box and boom - It'll be like those agonizing six months of offseason never happened.
Watch it on: Lifetime
Where: Providence Park in Portland, OR
When: Saturday, April 15th at 12:00 p.m. PT
Portland Thorns: Ended 2016 with a 12-3-5 record
Orlando Pride: Ended 2016 with a 6-13-1 record