Thorns.vsKC062021.CM189

Portland Thorns FC will look to end their second two-game losing streak of 2021 on Sunday in Kansas City, Kansas, when they visit the National Women’s Soccer League’s newest team, Kansas City NWSL.

The matchup featured teams at the opposite ends of the league’s standings. Portland (12-6-2, W-L-T) enters the game, their 21st of 24 in the regular season, with a three-point lead at the top of the league. Kansas City (2-12-5) is currently in 10th place, six points behind ninth-place Racing Louisville.

Standings: 2021 NWSL Regular Season
Rank
Team
GP
Points
1
Thorns FC
20
38
2
OL Reign
20
35
3
NC Courage
20
32
4
Houston Dash
20
29
5
Chicago Red Stars
20
29
6
Orlando Pride
20
28
7
Washington Spirit
20
27
8
Gotham FC
19
26
9
Racing Louisville
20
17
10
Kansas City
19
11

Portland can clinch an NWSL best seventh postseason appearance with a victory at Legends Field, while Kansas City will be looking for their third win of the season.

SHARPSHOOTERS

With her goal on Wednesday against Houston, Thorns forward Sophia Smith moved into a five-way tie for third on the NWSL’s goalscoring leaderboard. Only OL Reign’s Bethany Balcer (nine goals) and the Orlando Pride’s Sydney Leroux (eight) have scored more times than Smith during the 2021 regular season.

2021 NWSL Goal Scoring Leaders
Rank
Player
Team
GP
MP
Goals
1
Balcer, Bethany
RGN
19
999
9
2
Leroux, Sydney
ORL
19
1658
8
3t
Daly, Rachel
HOU
11
990
7
3t
Hatch, Ashley
WAS
16
1206
7
3t
Onumonu, Ifeoma
NJY
19
1418
7
3t
Smith, Sophia
POR
17
1147
7
3t
Williams, Lynn
NC
13
1143
7

For Kansas City, six different players have scored goals this season, with Darian Jenkins becoming one of the team's three multi-goal scorers during their 2-1, September 26 match at the Washington Spirit.

With the postponement for their October 2 visit from the Dash, Kansas City will have gone 15 days without a game when they kickoff Sunday against Portland.

MIDFIELD CORNERSTONES

Among Kansas City’s breakthrough players has been midfielder Victoria Pickett, who leads the team in appearances (18 games), minutes played (1,472) and is one of the squad’s goalscorers. A Canadian U-level international, Pickett was drafted this winter out of the University of Wisconsin, becoming the first of three Kansas City second-round picks when she was selected 15th overall.

For Thorns FC, Wednesday saw the return of their captain, Christine Sinclair, to the head of their diamond midfield. Over her three previous games, Sinclair had played her natural position, striker, as the Thorns make room for all of Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Rocky Rodríguez and Angela Salem in the middle. When Dunn began the Houston match on the bench, Sinclair moved back into the team’s No. 10 role and responded with her fifth goal of the season.

PROTECTING THE NETS

If Sinclair adds to that goal total on Sunday, she’ll do so against a familiar face. Adrianna Franch is expected to start in goal for Kansas City, marking the U.S. Olympian’s first match against her former club.

Franch won two Goalkeeper of the Year honors and an NWSL title during her time in Portland (2016-2021), and though she’s only had four games with her team, the 30-year-old goalkeeper is off to a strong start. Franch has already collected a clean sheet and four points with Kansas City, with her team going 1-2-1 when she's in the lineup.

Opposite Franch will be Bella Bixby, who is coming off a couple of career firsts. In 17 appearances across three competitions since the summer of 2020, Bixby has only allowed multiple goals on three occasions. Portland’s losses to Chicago and Houston mark the first time that’s happened in consecutive games. Additionally, Wednesday’s loss to the Dash was the first time Portland has conceded more than two times with Bixby in goal.

BOTTOM LINES

Kansas City have shown steady improvement throughout their first season and, thanks to some bold midseason moves, have improved the team’s talent base. They’re better than their place in their league standing implies.

Unfortunately for the Thorns, Portland faces that quality in a moment of need. A third-straight loss could see OL Reign, behind them in the standings, make up the three-game gap between second and third ahead of the teams’ Wednesday meeting at Providence Park. After two straight losses, wins after becoming much-needed for the Thorns.