After a spectacular defeat against Sky Blue in Portland’s first home loss of the season, the Portland Thorns look like they will be stepping onto the pitch in Maryland with a purpose. The Thorns, who lost 3-1 to the New Jersey team this past weekend, are looking to redeem themselves. The Washington Spirit look like a good opponent for that.
Although the Washington Spirit we will see on Saturday plays very differently to the Washington Spirit of the 2016 season, I have little doubt that the match will be exciting. Washington has been slowly creeping up the NWSL power rankings since they signed college superstar Mallory Pugh. Pugh is still listed as “out” in the injury report, however; during the USWNT friendlies in Scandinavia, she experience a left ankle sprain. And despite Pugh’s tactical brilliance, she is not the Spirit player I would single out as impressive. That honor is split between Francisca Ordega and Stephanie Labbé. If Pugh is responsible for the momentum that caused the Spirit’s upward trajectory on the league table, then Ordega and Labbé are the two players that turned that momentum into something tangible. Even though we’re barely a third of the way through the season, Labbé already has 41 saves on the year - she is going to be a hard goalkeeper for Portland to beat.
That is why, however, we have Ashleigh Sykes. The new forward from Australia made her NWSL debut this past Saturday. In the post game interview, Parsons said that “it was great to get Sykes on... Sykes is going to need a couple of weeks to get up to the speed we know she can be at. We didn’t get her on the ball much, you saw right at the end that she created one of our best chances in the last 20 minutes with a chance at the end by beating her player outside then inside.” Hopefully with Sykes leading the way, the Thorns can have some more success finishing in the final third - their biggest weakness so far.
Although the NWSL has yet to update its injury report, I think it’s safe to assume the lineup. The Thorns should start the same group as last week: AD Franch in goal, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, and Celeste Boureille in the back, Lindsey Horan, Amandine Henry, and Allie Long at midfield, and Mallory Webber, Christine Sinclair, and Hayley Raso at forward. In his post-game quotes, Parsons mentioned that he had some subs he still wanted to make in the Sky Blue game - does this herald the return of Dagny Brynjarsdottir? Tobin Heath, Katherine Reynolds, and Mana Shim are all still injured, so the bench is thin. Cox should sub in for Klingenberg should help the left side rally again if that’s required, and hopefully Sykes will get some more minutes this game, though I doubt Parsons will start her as early.
So, what does Portland have to do to win? Despite its climb up the league table, the Spirit is still one of the weaker teams in the NWSL right now. Although Labbé is making a valiant effort, her defense is still reeling from all the trades of the off-season. The Thorns have shown in the past that they can capitalize on space left between defenders, and I think this will be key on triumphing over the Washington Spirit.
Watch it on: go90, NWSLsoccer.com
When: Saturday, June 24th at 4:00 p.m. PT
Where: Maryland SoccerPlex
Portland Thorns: 4-2-3, 3rd place in the NWSL, 3-1 loss against Sky Blue FC
Washington Spirit: 2-5-2, 8th place in the NWSL, 1-1 draw at Chicago Red Stars