August came faster than we thought and with it, the Women’s International Champions Cup that is being held at Providence Park for the second year in a row.
After the Portland Thorns welcomed Barcelona, Houston Dash, and Lyon last year, this time around the invitees are a little bit different: Chelsea and Rayadas de Monterrey are among the pack in 2022. Olympique Lyon comes to town again, this time with a Thorn player on loan in among that squad. Lindsey Horan is once again teammates with former Thorn Amandine Henry and the quest is to give Lyon what Portland denied them last year: the ICC title.
At the beginning of the season, Thorns fans dreaded the future of the team wasn’t going to be as bright as it was the year before. Long-time coach Mark Parsons was gone, and in his last dance he helped Portland to win 3 out of 4 possible trophies in 2022, the WICC among those.
But those fears were unjustified as coach Rhian Wilkinson is proving more than capable in her rookie year in the NWSL. Is the WICC a must for Portland? It should be. The Thorns have already established to everybody they can be a competitive team— no matter who’s on the field. And although the attack has been constructed around Sophia Smith, the rest of the team has proved they can step up and make a difference on the field, and in the box score, when needed.
But being competitive is not enough for this club. Although Portland had an unceremonious exit from the Challenge Cup at the beginning of the year, they were just warming up the engines. We understand now how the coach was looking at the big picture, and although the club always wants to win trophies, they needed to make hard decisions and prioritize preparation over results at that point of the year.
Months later, we see the outcome of those decisions. While the teams that played in the Challenge Cup final (Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage) are not doing very well, Portland has flourished. That doesn’t mean a team can’t win the Cup and be competitive in the season too. Portland did it in 2021, but the circumstances and roster were a bit different.
Although players that were key last year are gone, the group that Wilkinson has gathered this year is one that has made Portland fans believe again. It’s a younger group with a lot of players that have been in the backseat for some time but now are ready to move up to the driver’s seat. We haven’t talked much about Yazmeen Ryan, but what a season she’s having! She’s pushing for a starting spot and has become a reliable player that fans want to see in the starting eleven. Another player worth mentioning is Meaghan Nally. We have talked a little about her already, but we can’t highlight enough how she has kept developing week after week, as has Olivia Moultrie and so many others.
So at this point of the season – and with all these players have shown so far – we can say that the Thorns are capable of crystalizing all that talent and quality with a trophy.
It won’t be easy, though. Portland not only has to beat Rayadas in the semifinal, but if they do it, they will have to play against either Emma Hayes’ Chelsea or Champions League winner Lyon.
Chelsea has been dyeing London and England blue in the past couple of years, and they’re the current FAWSL champions and FA Cup champions. Rayadas won the Liguilla last year for the second time in their history and have hit a new gear under coach Eva Espejo. Last but not least, Lyon played Champions League with a chip on their shoulders. While everybody was losing their minds for Barcelona’s jogo bonito— rightly so— and pundits and fans claimed they were the favorites to win the Champions League back to back, Lyon knew they were no underdogs. The French side proved they were back in business after beating the Spaniards 3-1 in the WUCL final.
WICC IS BACK 2022 Women’s International Champions Cup presented by @Ally will feature the world's best once again in Portland this summer as Olympique Lyonnais, Portland Thorns, Chelsea FC Women, and C.F. Monterrey battle for the title of "World Champions." ⚽️ #WICC2022 pic.twitter.com/QACUVIJsMV— Women's International Champions Cup (@iccwomen) June 8, 2022
Rayadas’ key players
While there’s no history between Rayadas and Portland, we can say it’s going to be a fun match. Maybe many don’t know much about the Regiomontanas but they’re a good team that can give Portland work to do.
After the departure of Rayadas top goalscorer Desirée Monsiváis, a younger forward rose to the task: we’re talking about Christina Burkenroad. The former Orlando Pride player is on fire and is the top goalscorer in the Mexican league so far, with eight goals scored.
Another player to watch is the young talented forward Aylin Aviléz. She’s only 19 but her quality and intelligence are beyond her age. She not only can score golazos like this one:
But she can also do things like this:
No wonder her nickname is “La Joyita” (“Little Jewel”).
We can also highlight players like the captain of the team Rebecca Bernal. She’s a center-back and can also score goals from set pieces and open play. If we talk about the midfield, one of Rayadas’ most reliable midfielders is Diana Evangelista. She’s known for how fast she can be running with the ball at her feet. Evangelista is no stranger to scoring either and has 3 goals in the season so far.
Two players that are related to Portland? Defender Valeria del Campo is teammates with Rocky Rodríguez in the Costa Rican national team. And Daniela Solís has played for Oregon’s Sherwood High School and the Portland State University Vikings.
It’s definitely going to be an interesting game between these two sides tonight. And it’s one that also will keep strengthening the partnership that is growing between NWSL and Liga MX Femenil.
The game is set to kick off at 8:30 P.M. Pacific and will be broadcast on ESPN2, and is able to be streamed on DAZN internationally.