Washington Spirit face one of their toughest match-ups of the season when they host the Portland Thorns at Buzzard Point tonight. A win against top-ranked Portland will help the Spirit solidify their playoff chances, but their 4-2 loss to the Thorns earlier this season shows the Spirit may not be able to stop this scoring juggernaut.
In that game, the Spirit were wholly unable to contain Portland superstar Sophia Smith, who scored a hat trick and easily shrugged off Spirit defenders whenever she got the ball at her feet. Led by Smith, Portland are the highest scoring team in the league with 36 goals to Washington’s 22. Though only three points behind the Thorns, the Spirit have tended to win games by lower margins and could struggle to keep up if Smith and her teammates go on another scoring blitz.
Spirit coach Mark Parsons said his team has been “very honest with ourselves about those key moments” in which they didn’t perform well in the last game against Portland and is hoping to have learned from them. With all of the Spirit’s World Cup players, including Andi Sullivan and Trinity Rodman, available tonight, he said he’s given a lot of thought both to who will be starting the game for the Spirit and who can be brought in to ensure they finish strong. “Getting that right will be key for us.”
You’re going to see us wanting to be the best version of ourselves, and we know the task, and we’re excited for this challenge,” Parsons said. “I think the thing that is giving us a lot of confidence is: we’re at home. Our fans have been unbelievable, and we’re so excited to see what the crowd is. We know already it’s going to be massive, and that energy that they’ve been giving us has meant a lot.”
Key Player: Ashley Sanchez
Midfielder Ashley Sanchez scored in the first minute of her return to NWSL play last week, capitalizing on a chance she also created with a pass to forward Ouleymata Sarr. Sanchez has scored four goals in her last four matches and consistently adds an element of creativity and surprise to the Spirit’s attack. The team will rely on her connection with the forwards to score tonight.
Watch Out For: Crystal Dunn, Olivia Moultrie
We’ve already talked about Sophia Smith, so let’s take a look at Portland’s attacking midfield. Crystal Dunn and Olivia Moultrie have 7 goals (5 for Dunn, 2 for Moultrie) and 5 assists (Dunn 2, Moultrie 3) between them and an electric chemistry with Smith that will make it hard for Washington to lock down their defensive third.
Challenges: Can the Spirit keep Smith off the ball and connect on enough of their passes to make their own attack equally dangerous? Washington have the lowest pass accuracy percentage in the NWSL, which has often held them back from scoring.
Previously: In addition to their 4-2 loss earlier this season, the Spirit have not beaten Portland since May 2019.
Washington Spirit Availability:
Out: Anna Heilferty (SEI – knee); Civana Kuhlmann (SEI – knee); Inès Jaurena (knee)
Portland Thorns Availability:
Out: Janine Beckie (SEI – knee); Kelli Hubly (suspension – red card)
Location: Audi Field, Washington, DC
Kickoff time: 5 p.m. ET
Referee: Jeremy Scheer
Available streaming: Paramount+