This Wednesday another mid-week game awaits us when the Portland Thorns visit the San Diego Wave at Torero Stadium at 7 p.m. Pacific.
It will be the first time both teams meet in the regular season, with Portland having played six games so far and sitting at fifth in the league table.
Whoever predicted that the Wave (4-2-1, 13 points) was going to sit atop the table at this time of the year and that the Thorns (2-1-3, 9 points) were not going to be the favorites going into this match deserves an award. This last statement is not blatant hubris, but this is the first time in NWSL history when a rookie team is having the results San Diego is getting.
It’s also the first time in the Thorns’ history when they’ve got only two wins out of their first six games of the season.
Could we say this is the worst start of a regular season for Portland in its entire history? Maybe in numbers. “Worst” is a tough word that maybe gives people that haven’t watched the matches the wrong impression about what’s going on on the field. Nonetheless, when we compare these few last results to the ones the Thorns have gotten at this time in previous years... well, let’s just say they haven’t been good enough.
Despite that, we have seen promising things so far. One of them is Janine Beckie making an impact on the team with her crossing. She spoke about providing quality balls and quality services into the box recently, and she has been trying to be the player providing that quality on the field in her first appearances with the Thorns in this 2022 regular season.
Another positive thing is Kelli Hubly scoring. Portland’s tendency in recent years has been not to rely on just a little group of players to score, but rather have the goals distributed across the team. Who doesn’t remember Sonnett scoring in the playoff semifinal in 2016 against the Courage? It’s true she scored “only” 8 goals in the 3 years she played for the Thorns (as a center back it wasn’t her duty) but other teams knew she could do it and that made her a threat to the opponents that knew they had to mark her in the box.
Last Saturday’s goal was the first one for Hubly in the six years since she started to play for Portland, and maybe that’s what she needed to open the gates. Also, that goal was important because she did it with her head. Since Simone Charley left, the Thorns ability to attack aerial balls has not been good enough, and it’s certainly something the Thorns will have to work on moving forward. Early returns are promisng, as Hina Sugita can (and did) contribute to that work.
In this upcoming match against San Diego, the home team is coming off of a loss and a draw in their previous two games. Casey Stoney’s squad will surely want to get a win now that they’re finally home after four games on the road, and more so after the Thorns spoiled their home opener in the Challenge Cup.
Alex Morgan comes in hot with eight goals, 4 of them being PKs. Her eight goals scored in seven games (regular season) put her in rarefied air for early season goal scoring. She’s second all-time after Sam Kerr, who scored 9 goals in her first 7 games in a regular season (2019).
With that in mind, it’s a good thing that Portland comes to this game off of a convincing win at home, with a brace scored by the one and only Christine Sinclair (Hubly’s header was the opener for the 3-0 win). With those two goals, the Canadian captain has a total of 57 in her NWSL career. Only Sinclair has scored so many goals for a single consistent club in the league’s history. Lynn Williams, who also has 57 goals, scored 42 of those for North Carolina with the rest of them being for the New York Flash (potato-potato). The former Chicago Red Stars striker, Sam Kerr, is the only one who surpasses both forwards with 77 goals scored in her NWSL career.
Portland will want to get a positive result in order to keep building momentum and, more importantly, in order to keep developing their identity on the field, something they desperately need to finalize soon.
It will be an interesting showdown between one of the league’s all-time top goalscorers and the current season’s top goalscorer. Both are veterans, ones at the top of the table, and the other needs points to help her team keep climbing the table. So far the Thorns have collected two wins against San Diego— but that was in the Challenge Cup. What will happen now that we’re on the regular season? Who will win?
Find out today at 7 p.m. Pacific on CBS Sports Network and Twitch.