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Storylines: Portland Thorns versus Sky Blue FC

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Nikita Taparia

The Portland Thorns (5-4-4) return home from their two game road trip to get their first game of the season against Sky Blue FC. Sky Blue (0-2-9—yes, that’s their real record) are on track to become one of the worst teams in league history with only two points from 11 games and will be missing key players in defense and attack. If ever there were a must-win game, this is it.

Projected Starting XI

This is the middle of a stretch of three games in ten days for the Thorns and clearly the worst opponent. Rotation seems likely. Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, for instance, has sat out one game in tight stretches like this before. Tobin Heath may start but is unlikely to complete 90 minutes. The one player who it certainly won’t affect Lindsay Horan, who was out in the Houston game with yellow card accumulation and who is probably raring to get out on the field and make an impact. The backline as well is badly in need of consistent reps as a unit after an injury-ravaged start to the season. Ellie Carpenter is growing in influence and this seems like the perfect game for her to impose herself on.

In text format: Adrianna Franch in goal, Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett, and Katherine Reynolds in a back three, Meghan Klingenberg, Horan, Celeste Boureille and Ellie Carpenter deeper in midfield, and Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath and Ifeoma Onumonu up top.

Hayley Raso is likely to make a sub appearance late on to make Erica Skroski’s life miserable. Midge Purce could also see a few minutes but is more likely to see time away at Seattle on the weekend.

Scouting the Opposition

Sky Blue will be missing a crucial defensive piece in Rebekah Stott. The former Reign outside back has moved into the center due to team need and has proven herself to be the most capable defender in that team: her influence will be badly missed. Katie Johnson, the Mexican international who has been one of the team’s most effective forwards, will also be out. Jen Hoy and Amandine Pierre-Louis are also ruled out. Sky Blue aren’t good on the best of days, and these absences are a significant dent to their chances.

That said, they do have dangerous weapons, and there’s a reason they’ve only lost one game this season by more than one goal. Savannah McCaskill has demonstrated why she was picked second overall in the 2018 NWSL college draft. Carli Lloyd can be isolated in possession, but is always a threat to score from anywhere she picks the ball up on the field. Shea Groom can look good when running at opposing defenses (if not when shooting) and Imani Dorsey has been a spark of life since signing to a full contract a few weeks ago. Sky Blue might let in four goals, but they have it in their team to score three if they click.

Gameplan

The Thorns win against Houston was as complete a performance as they have put together this season. This Sky Blue game seems like the perfect opportunity to laser in on what went well in offensive execution and try and see if it can be done again.

Celeste Boureille had an excellent game away at Houston sitting in front of the defense and picking up loose balls, keeping the ball moving in attack. Tight stretches of games where rotation is necessary are perfect for her to make her case for more regular starts. Having her in the side will be a good way to snuff out any issues and attack the ball but it will also allow Lindsay Horan to do what she does best: push forward and make things happen in attack.

The Thorns will want to score early to put a marker down, and no one is better at making that happen than Tobin Heath. Should Sky Blue manage to keep the game relatively tight, game management might become interesting with so many players on restricted minutes as they return from injury, but other than that, it should be a pretty straightforward night out.