The last part of the NWSL season is upon us and the race for the Shield is getting closer to its sweet end. The Portland Thorns still have some advantage in that race, but after the loss against North Carolina Courage on Wednesday it seems that San Diego and now Houston are breathing down on the Thorns' neck again. Not to mention the Reign who, after winning their match on Friday, are gaining momentum.
Of course, the Thorns still have one game in hand on those teams, but they can’t get too comfortable. It’s time to see if the team can turn their prioritization of the regular season into some silverware.
Of course, this isn’t an easy task. Like Emily Menges said last year, winning the Shield is harder than winning the Championship. It takes consistency week in and week out, and with World Cup qualifiers, WICC, and FIFA international breaks, the last thing a team in the NWSL has is consistency. We could see that recently for the Thorns in their starting lineups, how the coach was forced to rotate heavily in many of the latest games, affecting the chemistry and their performance on the field in the end.
With the international break coming next week, what lineup will coach Rhian Wilkinson choose to put against the Wave? Let’s remember that a total of seven Thorns have been called up for national team duty while Bella Bixby is probably still under wraps. It’s also noteworthy that Crystal Dunn, who is the only Thorn unavailable, has been invited to train with the US national team.
The Thorns have the upper hand. Will that be enough?
There’s not much history between these two teams, having drawn in the only match they played during the regular season, but the upcoming game will be crucial for both and could potentially start some history between them.
This year has brought three matches that had Portland face San Diego: two for Challenge Cup and one for the regular season. The Thorns collected two wins in the pre-season tournament and a 2 – 2 draw last June in San Diego.
August has not been that kind to Portland but despite that, they keep breaking records and establishing new ones. Right now, the club’s average goals per match is rocketing with 4.25, which is the first time an NWSL team surpassed the 4.0 average over a span of four games, according to Opta. And if you wanted more firepower in the attack, now Rocky Rodríguez has joined the party becoming the 13th player to score a goal for the Thorns this season. That is the most the club has ever had in a single season and if one more Thorn is added to the list, they will break the record for the most different goalscorers any NWSL team has ever had on their roster.
Do you want to guess who could be the next Thorn that will score? Well, the player that hasn’t scored with the highest xG is Janine Beckie, with 1.249 xG after 19 shots total, with 6 of those going on goal. Next, we have Sam Coffey with an xG of 0.769 after 16 shots and 5 on goal. Could they be the next Thorns added to the goalscorer list? We have to wait and see, but it’s also worth noting that the defense hasn’t been quiet in this matter, and we have seen Meaghan Nally adding herself to the attack over and over again, although she has had back luck. Out of 7 shots, only two have been on goal.
Speaking a little more about tonight’s opponents, we have to say that although the Wave has been struggling a little in their last games, they made a statement by coming from behind in the game against Houston. They were already losing at the 7th minute of the game but then Alex Morgan, Amirah Ali, and Sophia Jakobsson put on a show to give San Diego the victory. Makenzy Doniak had a lot to do with that, recording two assists in the match. Not too many players have done that this season and her performance put her in a selected group of 4 other players that have registered multiple assists, with Yazmeen Ryan being included in that party.
Tonight’s game won’t be easy but it will be a fun one for sure. The match will be streamed on Paramount+ for fans in the United States and Twitch for the rest of the world.