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Storylines: Portland Thorns at Washington Spirit

The Thorns (10-6-6) head to Washington for their second-to-last regular season game of 2018, against the Spirit (2-16-4) at DC United’s fancy new stadium, Audi Field. Both teams will be on short rest due to Wednesday games, although Washington has the advantage of not having to travel between those matches.

Projected Starting XI

Despite the quick turnaround, don’t expect much tinkering in the lineup at this late point in the season, especially because the Thorns don’t play again for another two weeks. If Parsons wants to rest some players, we’re much more likely to see him accomplish that via mid-game substitutions similar to what we’ve seen in recent matches: Midge Purce for Hayley Raso, Ana Crnogorcevic for Caitlin Foord, Andressinha for Tobin Heath, etc.

In text form: AD Franch in goal; Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett, and Ellie Carpenter on the back line; Celeste Boureille in the six with Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair ahead of her; Tobin Heath and Hayley Raso on the wings; and Caitlin Foord up top.

Portland’s injury report is clean except for Meg Morris, who’s on the disabled list, and Katherine Reynolds, who currently cannot walk due to a recent MCL surgery. Angela Salem has returned to grad school. The rest of the bench should be available.

Scouting the Opposition

Despite being in eighth place above winless Sky Blue, Washington is hands down the worst team in the league at this point. Not only are they winless in the last 13 games and result-less in the last nine (they drew the Reign in June), they’ve only scored a single goal in the last 12. In response to their abysmal record, the Spirit fired head coach Jim Gabarra earlier this week. Tom Torres, a former assistant, is serving as interim head coach.

This is a team in turmoil that’s truly bleak to watch. Their defense looks to have given up completely more often than not, and — despite what looks on paper like a fun, if somewhat inexperienced attacking corps featuring Mallory Pugh, Rose Lavelle, and Ashley Hatch —they look completely directionless going forward. Midweek against Utah, they tallied a measly two shots to Utah’s 21. That’s Laura Harvey’s Utah, a team whose signature look has been near-complete stagnancy going forward.

Washington is also worse off on the injury front than Portland, with Estefania Banini and Tori Huster listed as out, and Francisca Ordega questionable. Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle, meanwhile, have been starting but are reportedly still building their minutes.

Game Plan

This isn’t likely to be a fun or pretty game, between the short rest and Washington’s whole deal, which is pretty stolidly anti-fun. It’s easy to imagine Portland scoring a goal a lot like the one Utah tallied against the Spirit on Wednesday, when Caprice Dydasco backed off Christen Press on the right side of the 18, allowing the forward to send a cross in for a completely unmarked Amy Rodriguez on the six-yard line. Washington’s defense has been very, very bad, and especially with Foord wreaking ever more havoc with her movement and pace on the ball against opposing back lines, the Thorns shouldn’t have an issue finding a goal.

The key for the Thorns here is a boring truism: Despite Washington’s miserable form, they can’t get complacent and will still have to defend for 90 minutes. If there’s anyone on this Spirit team who looks, right now, capable of causing problems, it’s probably Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh, who each nearly got in on goal a couple times against the Royals; Celeste Boureille and Lindsey Horan will have an important job controlling play deep in the midfield to keep those two in check.

Finally, it’s worth noting that DiDi Haracic, Washington’s backup keeper, had a great outing Wednesday; the score could easily have been two- or three-nil without her services.