The Thorns are back at home against Orlando this Saturday to wrap up their thus-far very rough three-game week in the second Lifetime game in a row to take place at Providence Park. Both teams are 2-2-3; Orlando is sitting in fifth after a 0-0 draw with the Utah Royals, while Portland is in fourth, coming off a bleak midweek draw on the road against Houston.
Projected Starting XI
Portland will likely start close to the same lineup as Wednesday, again bringing in subs at halftime to give their starters a break at the end of a long week. Meghan Klingenberg is listed on the injury report as out for personal reasons.
In text format: Britt Eckerstrom in goal, Kelli Hubly, Emily Sonnett, and Katherine Reynolds ahead of her, and Mallory Weber and Midge Purce at wingback. Andressinha, Lindsey Horan, and Christine Sinclair will start in the midfield, while Tobin Heath and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic will be up top.
In positive news, Emily Menges is back in training and may see some minutes as a sub.
Scouting the Opposition
Orlando has been alternately decent and poor, both from game to game and in different parts of the field. The effects of the weird schedule this season have been in evidence in their last two games, in different ways.
Against Chicago, they scored two goals, one of them a lovely team effort that started with Ali Krieger pushing into the central midfield and robbing Lauren Kaskie. Orlando pinged the ball around the midfield a few times before Emily Van Egmond found Rachel Hill with a through ball, who got around an off-her-line Alyssa Naeher. Of course, the huge asterisk on what was a fairly dominant performance by Orlando is that Chicago looked worn to the bone, playing in their fifth of six games in three weeks. Both goals were as much the Red Stars defense giving up as they were the Pride putting together quality chances.
Midweek in Utah, both teams were listless for 90 minutes. Whether it was the altitude or an attempt at energy conservation, Orlando could barely move the ball out of the midfield. They did, however, do well in absorbing Utah’s attack—such as it was—which gets at the biggest improvement this team has made since the last time they played Portland.
Going into that game, the depleted Pride was starting Toni Pressley and Shelina Zadorsky at center back. Now that the Brazilian contingent has returned, Monica is starting in Pressley’s place, and the defense has been correspondingly stronger. Meanwhile, the lately mistake-prone Christine Nairn has been displaced from the midfield by the arrival of Alanna Kennedy and Emily Van Egmond, who have started with Dani Weatherholt in a three-woman central midfield. Those changes have added up to make for a much more defensively stable side than Portland contended with the last time around.
On the other end of the field, Orlando has been mediocre. Chioma Ubogagu is their best forward right now by a good margin; Sydney Leroux has been useless at best and actively detrimental at worst, while Alex Morgan has been a nonfactor recently. Even the talismanic Marta, with her onetime strike partner (Morgan) AWOL, has been surprisingly ineffective.
In the two-and-counting years of Orlando’s existence, they’ve still never beaten the Thorns; the series is at 4-0-1 all-time, and Portland is a perfect 3-0-0 against the Pride at home. These two teams last met less than a month ago in Portland’s home opener on April 15, a game they won 2-1 on the strength of goals by Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair.
How the Thorns can win
Portland’s midweek game against Houston, point on the road notwithstanding, was the worst all-around performance by the Thorns this season. The first half, while not terrible, was immensely frustrating. On paper, Portland’s roster should have dominated against this cobbled-together Dash team. On the field, they kind of did, but kind of didn’t, coming away with a whopping 70% possession—only to plink the ball around the midfield pointlessly and tally an abysmal two shots on goal. The second half was a different story: Portland got outplayed by Houston, conceding when their back line was shifted all the way to the right, letting Kyah Simon stroll through on the weak side.
That Houston goal shouldn’t have happened, but it has to be said that most of the goals Portland has conceded in the last month have been stupid and random—the result of individual mistakes, not systemic issues.
Wednesday excepted, Portland’s real problems are still going forward, not defending. The starting roster still needs to gel, and Saturday-to-Wednesday is a tight turnaround for two soccer games, it’s true. Nonetheless, we need to see a lot more out of Portland’s forwards. Mallory Weber is Mallory Weber; she’s basically playing to her ceiling. Ifeoma Onumonu may or may not have a higher upside, but we’re not likely to see it on the timeline the Thorns need. Crnogorcevic needs to do better, period. A player can only hesitate a beat too long, or place a shot poorly, or fail to take the extra touch to beat a keeper so many times before their permitted adjustment period is over.
So what of Orlando, specifically? Their defense, as discussed, has been good in recent games. A couple weeks ago, however, Seattle had success in exploiting their high press and playing balls in behind their back line. Ali Krieger, in particular, has been playing well, but has also spent a lot of time pushing high—and her side of the field is, of course, Tobin Heath’s. On the other hand, Nairn was still in the midfield for that game, giving Seattle a correspondingly easier time solving that pressure.
Players to Watch
For Portland, a lot could depend on Purce. Despite Orlando’s recent defensive strides, one thing that hasn’t changed is Carson Pickett at left back, who was eaten alive by Purce a month ago. Of course, Sermanni, learning from that experience, may decide to task Ubogagu with taking her on higher up the field.
On the other side, keep an eye out for Emily Van Egmond. She’s been a nice addition to a midfield that sorely needed reinforcements the last time Orlando was in the Rose City. She’s been a key piece in an offense that has otherwise looked flat, with great vision and passing ability going forward.
Watch it on: Lifetime, NWSL.com internationally
When: Saturday, May 12 at 12:30 pm PT
Where: Providence Park, Portland, OR
Orlando Pride: fifth in the NWSL, 2-2-3, drew 0-0 at Utah Royals
Portland Thorns: fourth in the NWSL, 2-2-3, drew 1-1 at Houston Dash