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Storylines: Portland Thorns at Chicago Red Stars

Ifeoma Onumonu going after the ball against the Chicago Red Stars in preseason.

With a tough opening weekend away to North Carolina in the rear view mirror, the Thorns make the trip out to a depleted Chicago Red Stars side for a Chicago vs Portland soccer double header.

Projected Starting XI

Despite the unconvincing attack last week, there isn’t much squad space for Parsons to maneuver in, so it’s entirely possible that the starting lineup will be unchanged. It’s possible that Elizabeth Ball will enter in Kelli Hubly’s place and Angela Salem is still available for selection for the last time before May. Sandra Yu, recently signed to a part term contract, could get minutes on the front line and would offer strong ball control and passing ability from there.

Scouting the Opposition

Chicago are one of the teams most affected by injuries and international absences at the moment. They looked badly out of shape away at the Houston Dash last week, stealing a late point with a headed goal in stoppage time. Julie Ertz and Casey Short, huge influences in Chicago’s defense, remain unavailable after picking up injuries on international duty before the start of the NWSL season. In attack, Yuki Nagasato is injured and Sam Kerr is in Australia’s squad for the Asian Cup alongside Thorns Hayley Raso and Ellie Carpenter. They could either line up in a diamond midfield or a 4-3-3: it largely depends on whether Rory Dames wants to create an overload in midfield or on the Thorns defensive line.

How Can the Thorns Win?

Chicago will bring a lot of pressure regardless of their personnel situation. They play a possession oriented game, aiming to win the ball in midfield and build attacks patiently. Nonetheless, the Thorns are probably happy to be facing them now rather than when they’re in midseason form and have a full lineup.

The major threat from Chicago in their current form is the Sofia Huerta/Danielle Colaprico combination in midfield. Colaprico didn’t have the best season last year and can be overran with pressure, but Huerta is a tricky player who can slip past opposing midfielders quickly. Boureille will have to move fast in order to keep up with her and Sonnett might have to step up and close her down should she get time on the ball. Another threat is Arin Gilliland at right back—Gilliland is one of those players who is consistently the best in her position in the league but never gets called up or even considered for international duty. Her attacking speed will put a lot of pressure on Meghan Klingenberg defensively: Katherine Reynolds might get switched over to the left centerback slot to help, depending on how that battle goes.

Defensively, Chicago plays a high line with Alyssa Naeher coming way out of her box to sweep like no other keeper in the league can do. Without a ton of speedy options up top, the Thorns might not be able to take advantage of the space between their defensive line and Naeher, unless Midge Purce gets time at winger. With the high Chicago line, the space that the team’s midfield’s have to play in is quite small, so everyone in midfield will have to use the ball well.

The Thorns will come out on top if they can find a way to keep the ball in the Red Stars’ half, as the serious counterattacking threats from Chicago just aren’t there at the moment. Getting a few more corners will go a long way toward putting the ball in the back of the net—with Hubly and Boureille in the side, the Thorns have some serious aerial ability that they normally wouldn’t, and they need to take advantage of that.

Parsons noted in training that the team had been working on shooting situations in practice to build some confidence in a team without a designated goal threat at the moment. Expect the team to look to create a few more shooting opportunities from distance.