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Storylines: Portland Thorns vs Chicago Red Stars

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At home. The Thorns are playing at home. It’s the home opener.

Nikita Taparia

Soccer’s coming home. After six games and seven long weeks on the road, the Portland Thorns (3-1-2) are having their home opener in the newly spit-shined and gussied up Providence Park. They will be squaring off against the Chicago Red Stars (3-2-2), a worthy opponent but one the Thorns have historically had the edge over.

The Thorns full expect to be running this game on the emotions of the crowd getting to see them for the first time this season. “Motivation to play well will never be higher,” Thorns coach Mark Parsons said of the team, and the intensity of the famous Thorns home crowd is key to the team’s ability to maintain energy.

Projected XI

The Thorns have a clean bill of heath for the first time this year, and as the team settles into a stable rotation after a few weeks of chaos with internationals in and out of the team, it’s welcome. That said, coach Mark Parsons did warn against assuming that the lineup would be static. Parsons said at training, “I think it’s going to be more game to game then it has been because of the competition. I told the players in our meeting yesterday: the attitude, the desire and the mentality you play with, you decided that, and we’re going to feed off it. We’re going to make training as competitive as possible, we’re going to push you.” The competition in the squad certainly forced changes after the loss to the Spirit, and there’s no reason to believe the intensity will drop.

Midge Purce has been fully cleared from the knock she picked up before the Washington Spirit game and is probably to start. Gabby Seiler impressed in midfield, as did Elizabeth Ball at wide centerback/fullback, and seem pretty hard to displace in the squad at the moment. Simone Charley still needs to work on her runs and shooting, but she held the ball up better than anyone else in the squad has shown to be capable of at the moment. Parsons isn’t saying if he has another trick up his sleeve, but he almost certainly does have a curveball to throw should he feel it necessary.

Gameplan

The Thorns had tons of success pressing high up the field to get Sky Blue off the ball last week, and coincidentally Chicago struggled against the Washington Spirit’s pressure also last week. Simple: same plan as last week then.

Maybe, and there are some similarities to how the two teams build attacks, with Danielle Colaprico able to do a lot of damage when she gets on the ball deep and Yuki Nagasato willing to drift between the lines to find space. Denying both of them space and time on the ball will be essential to any Thorns success in this game. However, Chicago’s fullbacks are significantly better, and both will take any opportunity to leave their marker to get into attack if they feel like they aren’t under significant defensive pressure.

Arin Wright, typically on the left, is the more attacking minded player and will charge down the flank most of the day, which is an added defensive responsibility for Midge Purce should she start on the Thorns right wing. Casey Short, on the other hand, is best known for her defense, though at times she looked like the Red Stars’ best attacker against Washington simply as a consequence of her having a relatively free role. Last game Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic spent a lot of time drifting inside to allow Meghan Klingenberg to charge down the flank: on the one hand, this seems like an action that might be productive, as Short strongly prefers to stick to her marker and prevent them from beating her and this in theory could open up space for Klingenberg to make relatively free runs into, but it could be counterproductive defensively, allowing Short to drift further forward without the ball so that she gets into attacking positions far faster after turnovers.

With Chicago’s forwards typically tucking inside to overload the midfield, whoever starts at the base of midfield has extra responsibility. Gabby Seiler has impressed this season so far but this promises to be her toughest test yet, though Angela Salem’s years of professional experience, should she start, will be helpful to the rookie.

The most interesting question, though, is if Simone Charley can continue to impress if she gets her second start at striker. Charley managed two nutmegs and six successful dribbles last game which was effective at holding play up while she waited for support. Mark Parsons, who has been talking Charley up for months, praised her performance now that she’s finally gotten her chance: “(Simone) managed to tick two boxes that I think are crucial to our team: get the game plan right, and play like you. Every player on this team has an individual personality and Simone struck the balance where she did so much hard work for us. The runs that she makes, the dribbles that she has, the ways that she cuts people and gets in the box looking for crosses (...) I think it’s just the beginning for what we can see.”

As impressive as her moves were, Charley of course has things to improve on: taking better shots and timing her runs better will go a long way toward ensuring that she can stick on this team long-term. However, Charley adds a dimension to the attack that just doesn’t exist anywhere else in the team at the moment, and it’s one the team needs to lean into to become the best version of themselves.