The Portland Thorns (1-0-2) head out east yet again to take on the Orlando Pride (0-4-1) for the second time this season. It’s another two week away trip for the Thorns and the last one of the season—after Orlando, the team will depart directly for the D.C. area to prepare for next weekend’s game against the Washington Spirit. The Pride have played more games than anyone else and yet find themselves squarely at the bottom of the league with one point and only one goal on the season.
Christine Sinclair and the American internationals are now out until after their World Cup run concludes. On the plus side, the Thorns are set to welcome back some important names from injury, loan and administrative holdup.
Emily Menges is available for this trip and is expected to make her season debut. She’s listed as questionable but may indeed be thrown right into the starting lineup, but it’s also possible Elizabeth Ball will start. Andressinha returns from her loan at Brazilian club Iranduba da Amazonia and will likely, for the first time of her Thorns career, get to show off her skills in the creative midfield role where she was once one of the best players in the league at Houston. Hayley Raso is back from Australia with a green card in hand and will get a chance to shine either on the left or right of an attacking trident with Caitlin Foord and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic. With Crnogorcevic looking effective at putting in hard work on the right wing in recent weeks, it’s possible that Raso will get the nod on the left wing and look to cut inside—with Klingenberg overlapping that could become a dangerous combination in the next two weeks for the Thorns.
Britt Eckerstrom will be starting in goal with Adrianna Franch in USWNT camp, and Bella Bixby is upgraded to questionable and will likely make her first bench appearance of the year.
The Pride have looked, frankly, quite bad, arguably even worse than Sky Blue, who managed last week to hold the North Carolina Courage to one of their worst offensive performances in the past few seasons in last weekend’s 0-0 draw. Orlando somehow finished last week’s game against the Houston Dash with 0 shots on goal—Marta did hit the crossbar with a header, but aside from this the Pride offense looked totally stagnant and incapable of generating regular opportunities on goal. They frequently get bogged down in midfield and ask Marta to get on the ball very deep instead of in more attacking positions, which has the unfortunate side effect of dragging her away from the forward line where she’s most effective.
Marc Skinner is trying to implement a possession oriented style of play at Orlando, taking advantage of their excellent passing from deep via their Australian internationals Alanna Kennedy and Emily Van Egmond. With Marta dropping so far deep to help out, the main penetration that Orlando get is from Rachel Hill stretching the field down the right channel and Chioma Ubogagu getting on the ball and driving at defenders down the left. It will be a good test for Ellie Carpenter to track Ubogagu’s runs, and Klingenberg will have to be careful not to get caught upfield and allow Hill to exploit the space left behind, but without any other forward attacking motion, Menges and Katherine Reynolds will be pretty free to help wide. Mark Parsons warned against not taking Orlando seriously, though: “We’re going to face a different Orlando than we faced last time and we’re going to face a different Orlando than Houston did. I think it’s going to be the most desperate Orlando we’ve seen, it’s going to be the most aggressive Orlando we’ve seen, and it’s going to be a very committed group to try and play as well as they can at home”.
One of the wrinkles the Pride can throw in now is in midfield: Camila has been coming off the bench for the Pride in recent games but has been cleared from the injury report, which potentially frees up some attacking ability in midfield. Camila is a better option than the fairly green midfielders Orlando have been rolling out in recent weeks but she’s exactly the kind of midfielder that Celeste Boureille likes to match up against—good on the ball but not the kind of player who will necessarily beat you on the dribble. The Thorns’ success in this game defensively will depend a lot on how Boureille and Dagny Brynjarsdottir, who both had off games against faster midfielders in New Jersey, will be able to break up play.
In attack, watching Andressinha play in her preferred position for the Thorns for the first time promises to be an exciting time, especially with a forward in Raso who doesn’t hesitate to run off the backline, giving her midfielders more space to operate in. Caitlin Foord has looked excellent moving off her defenders and dropping wide, but with Tobin Heath now gone, Foord needs to be a primary attacker as well. Parsons said of Foord: “Every day she gets to be with us she’s showing us more of her qualities. She can hurt you on the shoulder, with her back to goal holding people off is sublime. If she faces up and can get on the dribble, she can slip people (in behind) and get shots off. She’s someone that’s just a nuisance to play against—reminds me of the positive things that (Luis) Suarez has about his game—you just have to have eyes on the back of your head when you’re playing Caitlin. She’s always trying to take advantage of you, and whatever you give her she’s going to take”. The Pride will be welcoming back Toni Pressley from injury and seem likely to throw her back in to shore up their flagging defense, but while Pressley is very good in the air, she seems exactly like the kind of defender that Foord would be able to cut to pieces off the dribble, should Orlando be foolish enough to allow her to turn against them.