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Storylines: Portland Thorns vs Houston Dash

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Anya Button

The Portland Thorns (6-5-5) host the Houston Dash (5-5-6) on what projects to be another lovely late-night summer outing at Providence Park. Fresh off the 4-0 destruction of the Utah Royals, the biggest win any NWSL team had put together all season (until North Carolina’s 4-0 win against Sky Blue last night), the Thorns will be looking to build momentum before the international break starts in two weeks. Houston have been cobbling together an outside shot at a playoff place and will be highly motivated to pick up their first win against the Thorns this season.

Projected Starting XI

Andressinha and Midge Purce are officially out after getting beaten up in games against Seattle and Utah, respectively. Caitlin Foord is in full training but remains unavailable for selection. Other than those (and Meg Morris’ season ending injury), the Thorns have a clean injury report.

The selection questions at the club are starting to be about which players to drop rather than which players to fit in to which positions. Katherine Reynolds had played nearly every minute of the season up until she took an excused absence in the previous game, and this may be the first time she sits when available. With both Emilies back, Reynolds isn’t first choice at centerback, and she got torched by Kelia Ohai in their previous meeting away at Houston when playing at fullback. Ellie Carpenter has gotten some tough marking assignments recently and handled them pretty well. It would be a surprise if she were dropped now. For the attack, Hayley Raso and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic have been trading spots back and forth from the striker position to the right wing, and will probably continue to swap spots on the field.

Scouting the Opposition

The Dash come into this game on short rest, having had the harsh three-games-in-ten-days turnaround that have been all too familiar for many teams in this compressed, pre-World Cup, post-Boston schedule year. Last Wednesday in Houston they extended their strong record against Orlando with a ridiculous 3-1 win featuring a baffling ending that saw Marta receive the first red card of the NWSL season. The short rest could lead to a little rotation, but Houston head coach Vera Pauw has been reluctant to change things around very much now that she’s found a winning formula. Nichelle Prince has been coming off the bench since the arrival of Sofia Huerta and could see some time. Janine Van Wyk, the ever-present centerback for Houston, is listed as questionable on the injury report, so Claire Polkinghorne could drop onto the back line.

Gameplan

Houston like to sit back, let their opponents have all the ball and hit back on quick and deadly counterattacks when the opportunity presents itself. Rachel Daly is in red-hot goalscoring form, and with Kelia Ohai on the left and Kyah Simon on the right their front line is technical and fast. Emily Sonnett’s speed in covering the flanks and tracking runners is going to be essential, as will Emily Menges’s ability to cover a lot of space.

By contrast, Houston’s defense is quite slow and Raso may get space in behind to run as she continues to play herself into top form. The key to the Thorns success, however, is to dominate in midfield. Mistakes aside the Thorns played Houston off the field playing them away a few weeks ago and bossed the Dash midfield around—without Lindsay Horan. The midfield trio of Celeste Boureille, Lindsay Horan and Christine Sinclair clicked in a big way in their last game, and it might just be the best central midfield combination available at the club. If they can have another dominant performance where they can control the ball and win just about every tackle, the points will be within reach, and we might be able to talk about being in the middle of some end-of-season momentum.