After a week’s break for the World Cup, the Portland Thorns (4-1-2) travel back east to play the North Carolina Courage (3-2-3) for the first time since their fateful meeting in Portland for the NWSL Championship. The Courage ran out 3-0 winners that day, but the team taking the field in their colors in North Carolina today are going to look pretty different. Without Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Debinha, Abby Erceg, Steph Labbe and Jessica McDonald, the Courage are 1-2-2, with their only win coming against an Orlando Pride team that have yet to settle in under new coach Marc Skinner.
This is still the Courage, of course, and no doubt motivation will be high going into their first game against the Thorns this season, but the team has to prove they’re still capable of crushing opponents in the way that people expect. Without Emily Menges and Dagny Brynjarsdottir, missing with a thigh injury and international duty respectively, the Thorns will be digging into their reserves to put together 18 players. Simone Charley, who impressed in her first two starts for the club, will be looking to improve on her fast start of two assists (and one deflected shot that resulted in a goal), and Midge Purce has three goals in her last two games. New draftee Emily Ogle and newly signed National Team Replacement player Katy Byrne could be in line to make their professional debuts.
“Every time we play North Carolina, there’s definitely a little edge to it,” Britt Eckerstrom acknowledged. She emphasized that the Thorns “want to stay calm, composed, and ready to get after it.” That mindset will be a vital aspect of Portland’s performance this weekend; the Thorns haven’t beaten the Courage since the 2017 NWSL Final, looking as if they didn’t believe they could match North Carolina’s intensity when the two sides met in last year’s championship game.
Despite injuries and lineup changes, the Thorns are focused on retaining their core principles and carrying the momentum of their last two wins into this game. “We’ve started this (World Cup) period really well,” Thorns coach Mark Parsons said at training this week, “and we’ve focused on building off that. We’re very determined to put in a good performance that can give us a chance to get a tough result on the road against a good team.”
How to Watch
Where: WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, North Carolina
When: Saturday, June 15, 4:45pm PT
Portland Thorns: 4-1-2, 2nd place in the NWSL, won 3-0 vs Chicago Red Stars
North Carolina Courage: 3-2-3, 4th place in the NWSL, won 3-0 vs Orlando Pride