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PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Thorns FC will be back at Providence Park on Wednesday night looking to rebound. The last time we saw the National Women’s Soccer League’s first-place team, they were leaving the field after a 2-1 loss at the Chicago Red Stars. It was only the fifth time (in 19 games, this season) Portland finished a match without at least a draw.

Wednesday’s match is against the Houston Dash, a team the Thorns have already faced in three different competitions this season:

  • This spring, the Dash were a part of the Thorns’ group at the start of the Challenge Cup. Portland drew the teams’ match in Houston, 1-1, en route to winning the tournament.
  • This summer, the teams met in the first round of the Women’s International Challenge Cup, with Portland winning ahead of their season’s second trophy, …
  • while a late-July, regular-season match in Houston also ended in Portland’s favor, 1-0.

As with the teams’ other 2021 meetings, Wednesday’s context is unique. With a victory, the Thorns would clinch their seventh playoff berth and move six points ahead of the NWSL’s second-place team, OL Reign. For the Dash, victory could huge step forward for a team which, sitting in seventh place, is just outside the league’s six-team playoff field.

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SCORING THREATS

Sophia Smith leads the Thorns in goals (six) and the entire NWSL in shots (52) and shots on target (30). For the most part, she’s collected those numbers in fewer minutes than her competition among the league’s leading scorers. Though the NWSL’s top goalscorer, OL Reign’s Bethany Balcer (nine), has only played 999 minutes this season, the four players above Smith on the league’s scoring chart have played an average of 1281.5 minutes in 2021. Smith has played 1057 minutes.

NWSL Scoring Leaders
PLAYER/TEAM
G
GS
MIN
GOALS
Bethany Balcer (OLR)
19
11
999
9
Sydney Leroux (ORL)
19
19
1658
8
Ashley Hatch (WAS)
15
13
1124
7
Ifeoma Onumonu (NJNY)
18
15
1345
7
Sophia Smith (POR)
16
11
1057
6

Houston’s leading scorer is their starting striker, Rachel Daly (five), but seven different Dash players have scored at least two times this season. Attacker Veronica Latsko and centerback Katie Naughton are second on the team in goals, having scored three times, each.

MIDFIELD PUNCH

Along with Daly, midfielder Kristie Mewis is Houston’s most important player, joining teammate Shea Groom in providing an attacking threat from the team's midfield. The team’s most creative player, Mewis has a team-leading three assists this season, with her ascendance since joining the Dash in 2017 earning her a spot on the United States’ women’s national team at this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

The Thorns will be hoping for the return of one of their own Olympians, as an injured Lindsey Horan missed the team’s loss in Chicago. If healthy, she’ll rejoin the likes of Crystal Dunn, Rocky Rodríguez and Christine Sinclair playing in front of Angela Salem, who leads the team in minutes played with 1,364 in defensive midfield.

Thorns Leaders by Minutes
PLAYER
G
GS
MIN
Angela Salem
18
16
1367
Rocky Rodríguez
18
15
1364
Emily Menges
16
15
1299
Meghan Klingenberg
17
15
1241
Kelli Hubly
14
11
1065

AT THE BACK

Both Houston and Portland have promising young goalkeepers. The Dash’s Jane Campbell is already part of the United States’ national team picture, while Portland's Bella Bixby has been one the NWSL’s best goalkeepers, this season.

The teams also parallel in central defense, where each has three talented centerbacks to choose from. With a midseason trade, the Dash added Olympian Abby Dahlkemper, bolstering a central defense while already had estalished starters Haughton and Megan Oyster. The Thorns have an Olympic defender of their own, Becky Sauerbrunn, and the tandem of Kelli Hubly and Emily Menges have also proven capable of helping deliver shutouts.

FINAL NUMBERS

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Wednesday’s kickoff at Providence Park is 7:00 p.m. Pacific, and for those who can’t be at the park, the game will be televised locally on FOX 12 PLUS and streamed online via Paramount+.