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)

Questionable: None

Portland Thorns Availability:

Out: Janine Beckie (SEI – knee); Kelli Hubly (suspension – red card)

Questionable: None

Location: Audi Field, Washington, DC

Kickoff time: 5 p.m. ET

Referee: Jeremy Scheer

Available streaming: Paramount+

ByAnnie Elliott

Mostly writing about the Washington Spirit

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Talonesque #

I bought a ticket, and am so pumped to see so many quality players live, no matter the result- though I think Rodman might want to get revenge for the last loss where Smith went super nova


Looking forward to the return of Rodman and Sullivan to put the Spirit back at full strength!

David Rusk

0-0 at half. Spirit outplaying Thorn 7 shots to four, three on goal (but all soft) to one. 57% possession. Sophie Smith always so dangerous went down with injury just before halftime. Just left Buzzard Point on crutches.

David Rusk

I would guess crowd is 11-12 k.

David Rusk

1-1 final Hatch tied with pk in 90 minute. Attendance 13,048.

Talonesque #

I’ll probably repeat this in the recap, the difference between the two teams was the pivot action. Sullivan and Metayer combined did not find the forward players to on any level better better than Sam Koffey. She was an immense, sophisticated, tactical force of nature. The goal the Thorns scored was Hatch failing to find Sanchez, and Koffey pounced and got the play. 4-2-3-1 is a good formation, but someone in the two has got to be that passer

Talonesque #

I think a draw was probably the right result, we fielded a lot of quality, and the Thorns were not entirely able to match that, but in terms of connectivity from the pivots? Koffey was Queen.

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