The Portland Thorns will travel to Sahlen’s Stadium for the NC Courage home opener in Cary this weekend. The game is the second straight the Courage will play against teams they vanquished in the NWSL playoffs last year after beating the Washington Spirit last week. While that game saw the Courage dominate, Portland should be more of a test than the re-building Spirit.
Last weekend the Thorns shut out the Orlando Pride at Providence Park. The game perhaps showed some rust on both sides with Portland going up 1-0 on a Nadia Nadim penalty after a handball. A second goal came when midfielder Allie Long found Christine Sinclair on a through ball that split the Orlando defense and put the game out of reach for Orlando.
What to watch for
One of the standouts in the game against the Spirit for the Courage was Debinha who definitely added a bit of creativity in the midfield. While the link between Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams was lethal last season, adding a player with the skill the Brazilian has will help North Carolina unlock the Portland defense. Leading that defense for the Thorns are center backs Emily Menges and Emily Sonnett. The duo helped Portland allow a paltry 19 goals last year, the least in NWSL.
Another surprise for North Carolina was the backline led by center backs Abby Dahlkemper and Yuri Kawamura keeping a clean sheet against Washington. The Spirit didn’t offer a lot going forward but the team played terrific defense as a unit and held their opponents to few scoring opportunities. The Thorns will be much more likely to score than the Spirit. Even without Tobin Heath, who will not travel due to injury, Portland has a lethal attack led by forward Christine Sinclair.
Midfield metronome Allie Long is another player to watch for the Thorns. Quite simply, she can do everything from shield the backline to charge forward to set up goals for the attacking players when Portland is in possession.
There hasn’t been much news about Abby Erceg coming back from injury and the team looked good last weekend against the Spirit. I expect we’ll see same lineup as we did against the Spirit. That would be a 4-4-2 with Sabrina D’Angelo in goal, a backline of Jaelene Hinkle, Yuri Kawamura, Abby Dahlkemper, and Sam Witteman, the midfield set up with McCall Zerboni, Debinha, Sam Mewis, and Makenzy Doniak, and of course forwards Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald leading the line up front.
How to watch
Kick off: 7:30 PM, Saturday April 22.
Where to see it: via the Go90 app and website.