It will be an exciting match between the Portland Thorns, 2021 NWSL Shield winners, and the Washington Spirit, 2021 NWSL Championship winners, when they clash tonight at 7 p.m. Pacific at Providence Park.
The last time these two teams met was in August 2021 when the Thorns got a 1-0 win, via a Simone Charley goal. There was another match scheduled for September of that year, but after the Spirit was adjudged by the NWSL to have breached COVID protocols, the league decided to grant the three points to Portland.
If we look back to the last two years, the Spirit and the Thorns have only met twice: once in the regular season last year and once in the Challenge Cup in 2020 (a 1-1 draw).
Of course, those two results are only cold numbers, because we now know how dangerous the Spirit has become. They are the Champions now and could’ve taken the Challenge Cup title this year, too. So we know that (according to pundits) they’re the favorites to win at least one thing this year, whether it is International Champions Cup, the Shield, or a back-to-back championship. Who knows really?
We also know that the majority of the pundits are not taking Portland into the champions equation for 2022. But that doesn’t change the fact that Portland is still a talented team. Granted, they’re a team that is still looking for some answers in this part of the season — but they’re also finding them.
“Who is going to replace Lindsey Horan?” was one of the main questions this year. The answer came in the form of Sam Coffey. “What are we going to do now that Becky Sauerbrunn is injured?” The answer came in the form of Meaghan Nally. “Are the Thorns still going to be a competitive team now that Mark is gone?” They are proving they can be.
Last Friday, Portland faced the Reign, one of the teams that some say is on a different level compared to the Rose City team. But if you watched the game, you would have seen quite an even match. It was a match where the home team had the better chances and created more than their opponent, according to the stats. Maybe the defense had one or two shaky moments, but other than that the Thorns had things under control most of the game. One could say that they held the advantage last week.
Coming into this match, Portland will still have some advantages. Maybe the most important ones are the fact that they will play at home, and that most of the players are discharged from the injury list (except for Crystal Dunn and Marissa Everett). But the one that really gives the Thorns an advantage is the fact that the Spirit hasn’t rested much since the beginning of May.
Counting this game, Washington will have played five matches in 18 days. As Spirit coach, Kris Ward, said, at least three of those games were very demanding because two were for the Challenge Cup (semifinal and final) and the other was their season opener. There, they also held their championship ring ceremony, so the pressure was on to perform accordingly.
The Spirit also comes into this match after a loss at home against Angel City. If you watched that game, the Washington players were so tired that some were cramping in the final minutes. Trinity Rodman finished particularly spent and also frustrated after former Thorns’ Tyler Lussi didn’t give her much space in her new role as a fullback. Washington finished that game with nine shots and only one on target. Watching the injury list provided by the league, right back Kelley O’Hara is still questionable (hamstring), as too is Andi Sullivan. Also, Dorian Bailey received a hit on the cheekbone against Angel City and will be out for this match.
Portland will want to take advantage of the fatigue the Spirit is dealing with. At the same time, we’ll have to see how coach Rhian Wilkinson manages her player's minutes, because we can’t forget that the team will play again just four days later on Saturday against Houston at Providence Park.