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Storylines: Portland Thorns vs North Carolina Courage

On a quick turnaround, the Thorns return to Providence Park to take on the Courage in rivalry match with a projected record-setting attendance.

Bennett Dewan

After a disappointing 1-0 loss to Reign FC, the Portland Thorns (7-3-6) return to Providence Park — and a potential league record-size crowd — where they’ll take on the reigning NWSL champion North Carolina Courage (8-3-4). It’ll be the first time Portland faces the Courage at home since the 2018 NWSL final, a showing the Thorns will be eager to move past.

Fortunately, North Carolina hasn’t been quite as dominant as they were last year — though they’re still among the best teams in the league. When Portland met the Courage in Cary this June, the two sides played to a 1-1 draw, with Midge Purce notching the goal for the Thorns. At training this week, Purce said she expected Sunday’s match up to be “a battle. I’m pumped and our entire team is psyched for this game,” she continued. “We want the hard games, we want the battles, and I think that’s exactly what it’s going to be.”

Projected XI

With the short turnaround, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Thorns line up just as they did against Reign FC on Wednesday (although a case could be made for switching to five defenders). While Ellie Carpenter is fully available for this one, Parsons conveyed that he’d rather not force her into an extremely physical match up and risk further injury; she might come off the bench, but it’s unlikely she’ll be in the XI.

Game Plan

“Collectively we need to be pressing on the front foot in the right areas at the right times, Parsons said ahead of the Courage game, “so that we don’t spend as much time in the defensive third dealing [with] or thinking about [North Carolina’s high pressure and ability to break down teams through it].”

He pointed out that “when we’re flying, it’s very similar;” when Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath, Christine Sinclair, and Hayley Raso are all clicking, the Thorns are a similarly difficult team to beat.

As with any game against North Carolina, it feels like the stakes are high. However, Parsons pointed out that — while this match may decide who leads the NWSL table for the time being — this isn’t the game that’s ultimately going to determine who wins the league:

“If we get the three points we need, it’s going to go right down to the wire. And if we don’t get the three points we need, it’s going to go right down to the wire: chasing for a shield, chasing for a home playoff, chasing for a playoff spot. I think that can give us some calmness. Let’s not be emotional; let’s be focused and detailed.”