After coming off a dominant 3-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars which helped enforce a comfortable cushion at the top of the NWSL table, the Portland Thorns now face another tough challenge when they take on fellow playoff contenders Utah Royals FC in Sandy, UT Friday night.
The last time the Thorns and Royals faced off came back on July 19 when both teams drew 2-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium. It was the first game with all international players back from the World Cup break, and all four goals came courtesy of a returning international (Press and Corsie for Utah, Sinclair and a Sauerbrunn own-goal for Portland). After taking a 2-1 lead in the 87’, the Thorns had to rely on a couple moments of Franch heroics in stoppage-time to preserve a point after Corsie equalized in the 90’.
On the injury front, the Thorns are hit hardest in the midfield with Celeste Boureille (left ankle), and Andressinha (right knee) both listed as “out” in addition to Angela Salem and Gabby Seiler being out for the season after ACL surgeries. The Royals are still missing rightback Kelley O’Hara, but have a fairly clean bill of health otherwise.
Neither side has a win against the other this season after two attempts, and with Friday being the team’s penultimate road game of the season, bringing home all three road points is a must if the Thorns want to stay in contention for both a home playoff game and the Supporters Shield.
The Thorns have been spectacular in the attack in their past few games, scoring six, four of which were scored in the opening 25 minutes. This has allowed them the luxury of sitting back and waiting for the game to come to them, which should be decent practice for playing a Royals team that have been most comfortable sitting back hitting teams on the break. They’ve even ceded possession to the Reign, a team that gave the Thorns 59% of the ball the last time they played. So Portland will probably see most of the ball. The team’s defense on the counterattack has improved significantly in recent weeks and much of that improvement is down to holding position in midfield. With much of the attacking impetus flowing through Meghan Klingenberg, Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and Dagny Brynjarsdottir have had more license to drop back and cover the space in behind. Where last year, Horan took almost every single opportunity to crash the box, she’s been more judicious in attack this year, understanding the threat she brings when she steps up, but also covering in behind more often as well. Mark Parsons was keen to note that Horan’s attacks have opened up space for the rest of the team: “We have more ways to stop teams, we have more ways to attack teams [...] she has more support now, and she’s getting double and triple teamed”, but there’s no doubt that she is in some sense stepping back to allow her teammates to shine.
How to Watch
How to watch: Yahoo Sports in the US; check your local listings at NWSLSoccer.com for international viewers.
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, UT
When: Friday, September 6, 6:30 p.m (Pacific)
Portland Thorns: 10-6-3, first place in the NWSL, won 3-0 vs Chicago Red Stars
Utah Royals: 8-4-6, fourth place in the NWSL, drew 0-0 vs Washington Spirit