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Match preview: Angel City vs Portland Thorns

The Thorns and Angel City FC meet for the second time in the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup.

Angel City FC v Portland Thorns - 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

It will be the second time Portland Thorns and Angel City play each other and the Rose City team can clinch a spot in the semifinals with a win or a draw. Their fate is in their own hands. The teams will kick off in Titan Stadium tonight at 6 p.m. Pacific.

What happened the first time they met?

The game at Providence Park saw a very young squad in terms of games played, with Natalie Beckman, Taylor Porter, Yazmeen Ryan, and Meaghan Nally on the field. Hannah Betfort and Gabby Provenzano joined them in the second half, marking Provenzano’s professional debut. The team didn’t have Meghan Klingenberg available and Christine Sinclair was on the bench, but she wasn’t subbed in.

The Thorns didn’t have the best first half. They repeatedly lost possession and the passes and connections just weren’t there. Angel City put its forwards high on the field and that caused some problems for the home team.

Of course, Christen Press proved to be the most dangerous player on Angel City’s attack but the only clear shot she got was in the fifth minute, but it went high. Other than that, Natalia Kuikka and Kelli Hubly had her covered pretty well and if she got past them, Emily Menges forced her to go wide or near the end line to narrow Press’ shot angle.

The Thorns’ attack was comprised of Morgan Weaver and Sophia Smith. Weaver started playing on the left and Smith on the right. That proved ineffective. Like we saw in the last match against San Diego, Weaver feels more comfortable running from right to left to find space to shoot or to link up with Sophia Smith with a diagonal pass. After twenty minutes, they switched sides and Weaver started to make better connections with her teammates.

After Smith’s brilliant goal that opened the scoring, two more came in the second half. On both occasions, two Thorns appeared out of nowhere to claim a ball that looked like it would be cleared away from Angel City’s box. In the lead up to Yazmeen Ryan’s goal, a corner executed by Beckman ended up being too wide and Kuikka appeared out of nowhere to kick a powerful shot that DiDiHaracic couldn’t contain. Both Ryan and Hubly were well-positioned to send that ball into the back of the net but it was Ryan who capitalized.

Finally, it was Madison Pogarch who appeared out of nowhere to collect a ball that was going away from Angel City’s box and she then passed it to Weaver, who scored a true golazo.

Morgan Weaver scored a screamer.
Thorns FC

What to expect for the next match?

The injury report hit Thorns fans like a ton of bricks. It was reported that Sam Coffey, Meaghan Nally, Taylor Porter, Sophia Smith, and Hina Sugita are under COVID protocol and will miss the match. Let’s also remember that Becky Sauerbrunn appeared at training this week but she’s still unavailable. Crystal Dunn is also unavailable (maternity leave).

Is there a reason to worry? Well, the fact that Sophia Smith won’t be available is a huge blow for the team. The same can be said about Sam Coffey, who has been very impressive in the games she has played so far, proving that she’s Rookie of the Year material. Also, the latest Player of the Week, Sugita, who scored twice in the last match, will be out as well.

That said, we have to point out that Portland might not have the deep bench they had in 2021 at this point of the season, but if there’s something the first match against Angel City proved, it’s that the kids are ok. Also, Portland played a 4-2-3-1 last week and both coach Rhian Wilkinson and Kelli Hubly have stated that they’re going to adapt to the personnel they have since it’s World Cup qualifiers and Euros year. So this is a good opportunity to put that into practice.

Portland could play the same formation they used against San Diego, with four in the back but instead of Nally, they could use Kuikka, who wasn’t available in the last game. Instead of Sugita-Coffey as a double pivot, they could deploy Rocky Rodriguez and Olivia Moultrie, and Ryan in the more advanced role that Rodriguez occupied the last match. We could see Smith replaced by Marissa Everett since the same swap was made as a substitution in the first match against Angel City.

And who knows? This match could very well be Janine Beckie’s debut as a Thorn which coach Wilkinson foreshadowed in her pregame press conference.

But of course, if the Mark Parsons era taught us something, it was that we have to be prepared to be surprised with the lineups.

Brace yourselves because this Angel City won’t want to lose at home and will want to finish its participation in the Challenge Cup in the best way possible.