Thorns FC Opponent Dossier: Washington Spirit
Aiming to extend their unbeaten start to the season, the Portland Thorns take on Washington Spirit on Saturday (4pm PT, watch live webstream at www.portlandthornsfc.com). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.
A brief history…
Due to a strong support for women’s soccer in the capital, there was an eagerness to have a franchise in the new NWSL, so the DC United Women team became the Washington Spirit with an Academy structure set up to provide a pathway for younger players to emerge through the ranks.
The new team unveiled their badge and colors in January with the 11 stars on the logo representing 11 players, while the letters DC are there to maintain a link to their past. Bill Lynch is the club’s owner with Chris Hummer acting as general manager.
Where do they play their home games?
The Maryland SoccerPlex is where Washington call home – a stadium that has a capacity of 3,200 and was opened in 2000. It has a long history of women’s soccer being played there through the now defunct DC United Women and Washington Freedom teams.
For Saturday’s game against the Thorns, they are expecting a sell-out. So far, they have recorded attendances of 3,102 for the loss to Sky Blue FC and a hugely impressive 4,569 for the tie with Western New York Flash. So there is bound to be a great atmosphere for the visit of Cindy Parlow Cone’s team.
What players have they recruited?
As part of the NWSL player allocation, Washington picked up United States internationals Ashlyn Harris, Ali Kreiger and Lori Lindsey, Canadian duo Robyn Gayle and Diana Matheson, plus Mexican pair Alina Garciamendez and Teresea Worbis.
Then, using the Supplemental Draft, they used the first pick overall to select Stephanie Ochs, while also recruiting Tori Huster, Jordan Angeli, Nastasha Kai, Megan Mischler and Heather Cooke. Other notable signings included Candace Chapman, Ingrid Wells, Jasmyne Spencer, and Colleen Williams.
How have they fared so far?
Still searching for their first win of the season, Washington lost to Sky Blue FC last week after previously being held to draws by both Western New York Flash and Boston Breakers. They have conceded four goals and scored three times in those three outings.
What are they saying about the game?
“Everyone in this league knows what those two [Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan] are capable of and it will be an exciting challenge for us to stop them,” said head coach Mike Jorden.
“Portland has plenty of quality players and we’re looking forward to the test in front of another great home crowd.”
Head coach: Mike Jorden
After leading the DC United Women to their first Eastern Conference title, Jorden ensured that his reputation as a shrewd coach in the women’s game was cemented. The Ohio native had already done a lot in his coaching career before that with some excellent work at youth level, including working on the Virginia Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development Program. He is also a 10-time Virginia State Cup champion.
Star Player: Diana Matheson
Top scorer for Washington with two goals in three games, this Canada international is one of the best players in the NWSL. She is a midfielder with an engine that never runs out, an eye for goal and the ability to finish, and a real leader. For someone who has earned over 150 caps for her country and spent time in Europe with Team Strommen in Norway, Matheson is only hitting her peak years and has plenty still to offer.
One To Watch: Stephanie Ochs
The first pick in this year’s NWSL Supplemental Draft, Ochs is a player who has been tipped for great things since she was a teenager. Still only 22, the lightning-quick forward is getting better all of the time. In a recent Four Nations Tournament in Spain, where she was representing the United States Under 23’s, Ochs was voted as the tournament’s MVP. Now, Washington is hoping to get the most of her and see her score a lot of goals.
What can the Thorns expect?
Even though they are winless after three games, Washington has showed signs of transforming into a team that is difficult to break down. Part of that is down to goalkeeper Harris, who ranks second in the league behind Western New York Flash’s Adrianna Franch for saves made with a total of 17. And in front of her are confident defenders like Gayle and Krieger.
Washington will try to put the Thorns on the backfoot with their counter-attacking, but they have struggled to create scoring opportunities so far. Despite that, the pace of Ochs and Tiffany McCarty should not be underestimated and both Lindsey and Matheson will try to get the ball forward to them as quickly as possible. The key to stopping Washington is limiting the influence of those veteran midfielders.
Who are their main threats?
Up front, Ochs can be a game-winner – either in scoring a crucial goal or setting one up – and she needs to be marked tightly. Alongside her, McCarty is another talent on the rise, but they require a lot more service than they have been getting if they are to have a bigger impact on games. And that shines the spotlight on Washington’s creativity, or lack of, in their three games played.
Lindsey and Matheson are masters at linking play with their passing, however, they cannot be expected to play both defense and offense at the same time. One can cover the other at certain times, but the onus must be on their team-mates to contribute a lot more. That is where the likes of Huster, Wells, and Julia Roberts to step up.
Did You Know?
Washington assistant coach Cindi Harkes is married to former United States international John, who played a long career in England and MLS before retiring in 2002.
Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandTimbers.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.