Spirit Look to Bounce Back at Home Against League-Leading Portland Thorns

Washington Spirit  |   August 6, 2021
Spirit Look to Bounce Back at Home Against League-Leading Portland Thorns Featured Image

BRIDGEVIEW, IL – AUGUST 1: Aubrey Bledsoe #1 of the Washington Spirit holds the ball during a game between Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars at SeatGeek Stadium on August 1, 2021 in Bridgeview, Illinois.

Luke Bennett

Leesburg, VA., (08/06/2021) – The Washington Spirit face the Portland Thorns on Saturday, August 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Segra Field. The match will be broadcast on Paramount+ for fans in the United States and on Twitch for international viewers. 

Saturday evening’s match will be the first meeting between the two clubs this season.  

The Opposition

The Portland Thorns FC are among the most storied franchises in the NWSL. The two-time NWSL Champions have a tradition of success and popularity, often leading the league in both attendance and in the standings. This year, that is no different. 

With an 8-3-1 record, Portland tops the NWSL standings by a wide margin. The next closest teams – NY/NJ Gotham FC and the Chicago Red Stars – trail Portland by five points. The success of the Thorns, however, is not that easy to pin on one specific thing. Coming into Saturday’s game against the Spirit, the Thorns lead the league in goals scored (19) while also allowing the least amount of goals against in the league (7). So, it comes without question, the Thorns are as potent offensively as they are defensively. This is something Richie Burke’s Spirit squad will not take lightly.

The Thorns have spent much of the season hovering around the top of the NWSL standings. However, the departure of many players across the league on account of the 2020 Olympic Games surely seemed like the catalyst that ignited the Thorns’ recent success. Portland currently leads the league in the following stats: goals (19), shots (184), shots on goal (184), and corners (94). And in its last nine games, Portland has looked nearly unbeatable, dropping only a single game in that time. 

During this incredible hot streak, Portland’s Mark Parsons – who is set to become the Netherland’s National Team coach after the conclusion of the 2021 NWSL season – has stuck with the same lineup almost every game. A player to watch out for is 20-year-old attacker Sophia Smith, who has scored in two of the Thorns’ last three matches and ranks among the league leaders in shots and shots on goal.

The Spirit

The Spirit return home to Segra Field after leaving Chicago without any points to show for last week. Now fourth in the NWSL standings, and only two points removed from the eighth-place OL Reign, the Spirit can ill-afford to go without points for a second consecutive week. 

There is a lot to look forward to in Saturday’s upcoming match. The trio of Spirit attackers – Ashley Hatch, Trinity Rodman, and Ashley Sanchez – have continued to solidify themselves as premier NWSL talents. More specifically, Rodman looks determined to put herself in a league of her own among the league’s younger offensive talents. Rodman’s highlight reel goal last week was no fluke; the No. 2 overall – and youngest ever – draft pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft has torched opposing backlines all season long. And now, at just 19 years old, teams have begun to gameplan for her ferocious attack. Parlay Rodman’s offensive explosion with the red-hot, league-leading goal scorer Ashley Hatch and the Spirit offense is something opposing teams must scheme around week-in and week-out. Add in Ashley Sanchez’s growing confidence and apt skills in the offensive front, and it’s hard to bet against the Spirit offense when things are clicking.

Several Spirit defenders have stepped up to the plate since the Olympics players departed, accepting larger roles and increased minutes – none more notable than Sam Staab and Paige Nielsen. In fact, no player in the NWSL has completed or attempted more passes than Staab, who has completed 581 of her 680 passes (85.4%). And by completing 66.5 passes per 90 minutes (400 of 453 passes), Nielsen has the most completed passes per 90 minutes in the NWSL. These two have bolstered the backline and kept the Spirit in many close games. And although defending corners remain a nagging problem for the Spirit, this backline has more often than not made life easier for Aubrey Bledsoe in goal. After wrapping up her time with Japan at the Olympics, Saori Takarada will be available for the Spirit this weekend. Finally, as Team USA recently captured a bronze medal and Sweden took home silver in the 2020 Olympic Games, Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnet and Julia Roddar will return to a much-improved backline sooner rather than later. 

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