Thorns Invitational Preview, 3.24.17
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

A tournament preview look into the opponents of the 2017 Thorns Spring Invitational, presented by Tillamook

On Sunday, Portland Thorns FC return to Providence Park as they open this year's Thorns Spring Invitational presented by Tillamook against the Chicago Red Stars (5:00pm PT, TICKETS).

Joining them in Portland for the tournament are the NWSL's Houston Dash and the U.S. U-23 Women's National Team, both of whom will face off against one another on Sunday ahead of the Thorns and Red Stars match (2:30pm PT).

Before the tournament kicks off, ThornsFC.com presents a closer look at each of the Thorns' three upcoming opponents.

Chicago Red Stars

2016 finish: 3rd place in the NWSL (33 points)

Head coach: Rory Dames (since 2011)

Players to watch: Three U.S. Women's National Team players help form the spine of the Red Stars line-up.

The team's last line of defense is goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Naeher, who was on the 23-player roster for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, joined the Red Stars last season where she tied for the league-lead in shutouts with six.

In front of Naeher is standout defender Julie Johnston. Johnston, the 2014 NWSL Rookie of the Year and 2015 NWSL Best XI selection, has spent her entire professional career with the Red Stars. In 2015,  she formed one half of the central defensive pairing that helped lead the U.S. Women to its third World Cup trophy.

Leading the attack up top is U.S. National Team striker Christen Press. Press has been prolific for the U.S. Women having scored 41 goals in 83 caps. That level of efficiency began to translate to the Red Stars last season, as Press scored eight goals in only 14 matches for the club.

U.S. U-23 Women's National Team

Head coach: B.J. Snow

Players to watch: The U-23 squad traveling to Portland for the Thorns Spring Invitational will look very different from the one that recently participated in a series of friendly matches in La Manga, Spain. Where that team was largely comprised of young NWSL players – like the Thorns' own Celeste Boureille – this one skews much younger and much more collegiate.

A case in point is the astounding 16 year-old talent Brianna Pinto. Pinto, who has already committed to the University of North Carolina, has been a mainstay in central midfield for the U.S. U-17s. Her play at a recent U-23 camp so impressed Women's National Team head coach Jill Ellis, that she was invited to train with the full USWNT in Carson, Calif. in January.

Joining Pinto on this roster is another exciting young talent, Ashley Sanchez. Named U.S. Soccer's Young Female Player of the Year in 2016, Sanchez has already demonstrated consistent leadership on the pitch, first as captain of the U-17s and later with the U-20s. Still only 17 years-old, Sanchez spent time training with the full National Team last April.

Also joining this U-23 roster is local Bella Geist. The six-foot tall goalkeeper and Milwaukie, Ore. native currently plays collegiate ball at Oregon State University.

Houston Dash

2016 finish: 8th place (22 points)

Head coach: Randy Waldrum (since 2014)

Players to watch: After three seasons in the league, the Dash hope to reach the NWSL playoffs for the first time in franchise history this year. Missing at least until midseason will be World Cup Golden Ball winner Carli Lloyd, who last month departed the Dash for English side Manchester City.

To fill the void left behind by Lloyd, head coach Randy Waldrum will no doubt turn to U.S. Women's National Team midfielder Morgan Brian. Brian first joined the Dash as a rookie in 2015, but a combination of injuries and national team call-ups have limited the talented central midfielder to just 21 appearances across two seasons.

Up top, the Dash attack features the exciting young Canadian forward Janine Beckie (three goals and two assists in 14 appearances in 2016) and American forward Kealia Ohai (11 goals, two assists in 2016). Ohai's performance last season earned her her first-ever Women's National Team call-up, where she scored just 48 seconds after entering the match.

Shoring up the Dash defense is Australian goalkeeper Lydia Williams. Williams tied for third in the NWSL in saves in 2016 with 62.

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