The Thorns play the beleaguered Washington Spirit at home this week, the third and final meeting between two teams with very different fortunes as of late. The Spirit are 4-12-4 (W-L-D), with four losses and a draw in their last five games. Worse, they’ve been hemorrhaging players to injury (more on that in a minute). This is a must-win for the Thorns not in the sense that they desperately need points to stay where they are in the standings—they’re five points clear of third-place Chicago—but in the sense that there’s no excuse for them not to win.
Ideally, Mark Parsons wouldn’t have to mess with last week’s lineup, but Hayley Raso earning her fifth yellow of the season last week means she’ll be sitting this match out. That gives us AD Franch in goal, Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett, and Katherine Reynolds at center back, Meghan Klingenberg and Ashleigh Sykes at left and right wingback, Lindsey Horan and Amandine Henry as dual defensive midfielders, Christine Sinclair in the 10 slot, and Nadia Nadim up front. Alongside Nadim, I suspect Dagny Brynjarsdottir to get the start, with Savannah Jordan available off the bench. Jordan came on for Sinc last Saturday in the 88th minute, but with both Raso and Tyler Lussi out, she could see her first real minutes with the Thorns this week.
But that’s not what everyone’s dying to know, is it?
Tobin Heath was indeed back in (partial) training this week, but is still listed as “out” on the injury report. Parsons was cautious with the timeline for her return to the field, saying “the idea is we want to see her flying by playoffs. There’s a chance we see her just before then, but right now we’ve got to take it day by day.” If you’re a glass-half-full type, look to see her in the 18 against Orlando or Chicago.
Meg Morris, Portland’s other entry on the 45-day disabled list, has been in full training, but Parsons didn’t have a timeline for her return, either. “The way the medical team are taking care of her,” he said, “she’s got things that need to continue to improve. The way her body is continually moving forward and recovering and making sure her hips her back are aligning, is still not as good as it could be.”
Washington’s Very Bad Week
Portland and Washington each have a win in this series, but as the season has worn on, the Spirit have increasingly looked like a team in crisis.
After losing the core of their starting lineup in the offseason, they’ve been plagued with a succession of major knee injuries; this season, that list includes Joanna Lohman, Line Sigvardsen Jensen, and Arielle Ship. Caprice Dydasco, Cali Farquharson, and Kelsey Wys all came into 2017 with torn ACLs.
Then there’s been a rotation of lesser injuries, including Francesca Ordega’s back in July, and a yet-unknown injury to Estelle Johnson that forced her from Wednesday’s match against North Carolina. Head coach Jim Gabarra had a conniption on Wednesday when asked if overtraining was contributing to the number of injuries his team has sustained, asking the universe, “we are by far the best in compliance with US Soccer with sport science... and what do we get for it?”
To really rub the salt into the Spirit’s various wounds, they’re coming to Portland at the end of a three-game week, having lost to Chicago last Saturday, then North Carolina on Wednesday. Those losses were both hard to take in their own way. Two weeks ago, the Spirit traded Kristie Mewis to Chicago; in a cosmically-aligned act of retribution, she scored in a game against her former team, and was then immediately traded to Houston.
Then, in a midweek game against North Carolina, Washington went up 1-0 in the first half, only to let the Courage score in first-half stoppage time. North Carolina went on to win 3-2, the first time all season they’ve won after being scored on first. Finally, after subbing on in the 59th minute and adding some much-needed spark to her team’s attack, Ordega limped off the field in the 87th minute.
All this is a long-winded way of saying the Spirit are a poor team at the end of a difficult season (they’re now officially out of playoff contention) and an especially difficult week.
What to Expect
Although it’s true that this is the NWSL, where the any-given-day adage holds truer than just about anywhere else, it’s hard to imagine Washington overcoming this parade of misfortunes. The Spirit currently have just 16 players available. Their injury report looks like this:
OUT: Yanara Aedo (right knee meniscus tear), Line Sigvardsen Jensen (right ACL tear), Estelle Johnson (left IT band tear), Kassey Kallman (concussion), Stephanie Labbé (excused absence), Joanna Lohman (left ACL recovery), Francisca Ordega (left hamstring strain), Arielle Ship (right ACL tear)
With Ordega out, they’ll be relying on Estefania Banini and Mallory Pugh to create. Banini is crafty and technical in the number 10 slot, but she can’t do it alone, and Pugh’s been something of a nonfactor lately.
With stalwart Estelle Johnson out—she was the strong point in Washington’s defense this week—the Spirit are also looking thin defensively. Caprice Dydasco had a poor performance at right back, getting beat by Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald over and over. Washington was also weak defending set pieces, with two of North Carolina’s goals coming from free kicks; with Kling’s recent record as the Thorns’ dead-ball specialist, that’s an area that Portland will be looking to exploit.
The Thorns can clinch a playoff berth with a win against Washington, if Sky Blue FC loses or ties with FC Kansas City. They’re currently five points behind first-place North Carolina, and the Courage still have some competitive matches on their schedule, so a Thorns shield win isn’t out of the question. You can get a more detailed look at how the table is shaping up here.
Watch it on: Lifetime
When: Saturday, September 2 at 12:30 p.m. PT (no pregame show; match kicks off at 12:32)
Where: Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Thorns: 11-5-4, 2nd place in the NWSL, 2-1 win at Seattle Reign
Washington Spirit: 4-12-4, 10th place in the NWSL, 3-2 loss vs North Carolina Courage