After falling 1-0 to the North Carolina Courage, the Thorns will be back at home this weekend to take on Chicago.
Tobin Heath has been in partially back in training this week, and according to Mark Parsons, is "50/50" to see some minutes this weekend. Meghan Klingenberg, who was subbed off at halftime with a tight hamstring, is in a similar spot, while Katherine Reynolds and Dagny Brynjarsdottir are both still out.
That leaves us with Boureille, Menges, Sonnett, and either Klingenberg or Cox in the back, Long, Horan, and Henry in the midfield, Nadim and either Heath or Weber on the wings, and Sinclair attacking centrally.
How much should we worry about last week?
Last weekend was ugly, but it's not time to panic. North Carolina, like it or not, is one of the top teams in the league, and their high-pressing, transition-heavy style of play is tailor-made for shutting down Portland's possession game. I don't want to say they're the Thorns' kryptonite, but increasingly, with every meeting between the two teams, that's what it's looking like. Portland's attack starts with controlling the midfield, and the Courage's pressing, pestering, physical game in the middle third—especially with five bodies there—was too much for even the world-class trio of Long, Henry, and Horan to contend with. Factor in, also, the momentum shifts that stem from this being both Portland's first road game and North Carolina's first-ever home game.
If there's a concern here, it's that Portland didn't adjust anything once it became clear their setup wasn't working, and that may, in fact, prove to be a concern as the season rolls on. But this loss doesn't mean the Thorns are bad now.
How much of a difference can Heath make?
In general, the Thorns are very much a good enough team that their success shouldn't turn on the presence of any one player. Everyone on this roster with a "F" or an "M" next to their name can score goals. That said, Heath very well could have made the difference last week.
Abby Dahlkemper, playing on the right in the Courage's three-woman back line, gave a monster performance, and with the midfield flooded with bodies in blue, the only attacks Portland could string together went through the right. Nadia Nadim got a couple crosses past Kawamura, but she doesn't bring the creativity and dynamism Heath has on the left—nor, needless to say, does Mallory Weber, who was a nonfactor from the beginning. If North Carolina had had to worry about the width of Portland's attack in addition to shutting down the central midfield, we might be having a different discussion right now.
As far as this week goes, I expect the Thorns to have a better game with or without Heath, and her presence or absence isn't going to make or break the team. But obviously, adding a player of that quality to any roster is going to change things, especially given that she'd be stepping in for Weber.
Is Franch a problem?
She's not not a problem. Her poor decision-making and missed clearances haven't stopped, and it's not like she's a green player. To see her making these mistakes a second week in a row is worrisome.
All the same, she has yet to cost Portland a goal, and her PK save last week shows why she's the starting keeper—the fact remains that she's a top-quality shot stopper. It's still only week 3, and I'm not ready to start yelling that Eckerstrom should take her place yet.
Chicago is 1-1-0 so far, with a road loss to Houston to open the season and a win against Kansas City at home last week. They looked very good against FCKC, with Dani Colaprico and Vanessa DiBernardo controlling the central midfield and Jen Hoy feeding balls to Christen Press. In a fun twist, Julie Ertz (formerly Julie Johnston) played as an attacking midfielder and looked damn good—she scored Chicago's lone goal and had a handful of other chances. She also drew a foul resulting in a penalty that Press missed, which I admit I found comical.
"I believe there's two ways they can play," Parsons said at training this week. "Do they keep to their diamond, or do they go 3-5-2?" If they do go to a 3-5-2 against the Thorns, they'll probably want Ertz back at center back for defensive solidity. They could push Casey Short to a wide midfield role and trust her to be able to track back and help cover that back line. Either way, we're looking at Press and Hoy starting at forward, Colaprico, DiBernardo, Sofia Huerta, Short, and Alyssa Mautz in the midfield, and Johnson, Naughton, and Ertz in the back line—or, if they go with their typical formation, Gilliland, Naughton, Johnson, and Short in the back and Ertz in midfield.
Watch it on: Lifetime
Where: Providence Park in Portland, OR
When: Saturday, April 29th at 1:00 p.m. PT
Portland Thorns: 1-1-0, tied for 5th in the league, lost 1-0 vs. North Carolina Courage
Chicago Red Stars: 1-1-0, 4th in the league, won 1-0 vs. FC Kansas City