It feels like today’s NWSL Challenge Cup game between the Washington Spirit and the Portland Thorns is an inflection point for both sides, at least as far as this tournament goes. Washington opened their first game with a very good hour, and their second game with a solid first 30 minutes, but lost their way both times, and the result is a respectable win and a not-so-great loss. The Thorns, meanwhile, have been frustrated to find that their better moments going forward haven’t resulted in more goals or chances, and they’ll be looking to take that next step tonight.
Key player: Rose Lavelle
The Spirit will once again find themselves facing a team that sets up in a very narrow shape, crowding the midfield with four players. One of the Spirit’s issues against North Carolina was an inability to break through the Courage’s box midfield. They tried in the first half-hour to play around it in the hopes that NC would spread out enough to open up the middle, but the idea only worked sporadically, and only when Lavelle was the player receiving the ball in those moments.
To open up the Thorns and generate the kind of attacking threat Washington is capable of posing, the whole team needs to be quick enough to find Lavelle more often within and around Portland’s diamond shape. The Thorns will undoubtedly focus on making it difficult to find the Spirit’s #10, but we’ve seen how sharp Lavelle is right now. So she’s our key player not so much because of what she needs to do, but rather because how much Washington gets her on the ball is going to determine whether they can control this game, or whether they’re going to be on the back foot again.
Location: Zions Bank Stadium (Herriman, UT)
Kickoff time: 10:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Jordan DiBiasi, Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle; Kumi Yokoyama, Ashley Hatch, Ashley Sanchez
Bench: Devon Kerr, Natalie Jacobs, Dorian Bailey, Jaye Boissiere, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Meghan McCool, Bayley Feist, Averie Collins, Katie McClure
Let’s start with your injury update from training yesterday:
No new injury updates. Crystal Thomas is still out, but Burke hopes she'll be off the injury list "shortly." Says there are some knocks — Hellstrom (knee), Hendrix (ankle), Boissiere (back) — but that all are "coming out of them now."— Jason Anderson (@JasonDCsoccer) July 4, 2020
All three of the players mentioned as having a knock could dress for this one, but my guess is that Boissiere will be the only one of the group in uniform. However, it’s a real variable, so pay attention to the bench when the lineup comes out. Burke also clarified why he’s only dressing 20 players per game, so look for that to continue.
Speaking of the lineup, my sense is that Burke wants to get back to the 433 we saw in the opener, so that’s what I’m projecting tonight. If there are any players that need a rest, look for Hatch or the fullbacks to be prime candidates.
Projected Thorns starting 11: (4312) - Bella Bixby; Kelli Hubly, Emily Menges, Christen Westphal, Meghan Klingenberg; Celeste Boureille, Angela Salem, Lindsey Horan; Raquel Rodriguez; Simone Charley, Morgan Weaver
Portland is going to be without three normal starters: goalkeeper AD Franch, center back Becky Sauerbrunn, and striker Sophia Smith. That’s two USWNT World Cup winners and a young player who will probably join them in the national team before too long.
Having rotated somewhat significantly in their second game, Mark Parsons will probably bring some normal starters back into the lineup. However, there are two huge questions in Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair, who have respectively played 159 and 172 minutes thus far this week. I’m splitting the difference and predicting that Sinclair is held out of the starting lineup, perhaps even splitting the game with Horan 50/50. However, if Parsons wants to rest both players, I’m not really sure what he’s going to do for a midfield. They’re committed to the diamond, but if those two need a break, I’m not sure they can run it. We’ll see.
Referee: Karen Abt
Available TV: None live. CBS Sports Network has the game listed to be broadcast on tape delay at 7pm tomorrow night.
What are you drinking?: I made some extremely standard iced tea earlier today, so probably a couple of glasses of that.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.