Portland hopes to avenge an earlier defeat and take advantage of games in hand.
After nearly two weeks away from NWSL action, the Portland Thorns FC resume their league season on Wednesday with a midweek game against the North Carolina Courage in Cary, North Carolina (4 p.m. PT, Paramount+).
On August 5 the two teams played to a thrilling 3-3 draw that left the Thorns frustrated not to walk away with all three points after taking 2-0 and 3-2 leads. That only adds fuel to the fire for the second and final regular season installment of 2022.
“We know that we can be better and play together better as a team,” said Sophia Smith earlier this month. “I think we have a lot to learn from this game.”
Fans will see what lessons the team took away soon enough. For now, here are three things to keep an eye on when Portland takes the field Wednesday afternoon:
The Thorns are hungry for revenge
Things quickly became heated the first time the two teams played. Smith scored a brace with a pair of brilliant strikes and Morgan Weaver gave the Thorns a late lead, but Carolina still managed to take a point away from Providence Park, which left a bitter taste in the mouths of Portland’s coaching staff.
“I have to say I was frustrated; we weren't able to impose what we like to do on the ball,” said coach Rhian Wilkinson after the game. “We’re happy to get a point, because definitely there were moments where they were better than us.”
The Thorns weren’t supposed to play this Wednesday, but a COVID-19 flare up within the Courage organization in Spring postponed the game to late summer. With a crucial game against the San Diego Wave FC on Saturday flying across the country midweek isn’t ideal, but it does give Portland the opportunity to seek revenge for a rare home draw and put the August 5 game behind them once and for all.
Stopping the Courage means neutralizing Diana Ordóñez
Much attention has been paid to the NWSL Golden Book race this season and many believe the award will either go to Smith or the Wave’s Alex Morgan. Both forwards have strong cases, but not far behind them is Courage forward Diana Ordóñez, currently in red-hot form.
North Carolina has languished near the bottom of the league most of the season, but not for lack of what the Riverside, California, native has done on the field. Her 10 goals makeup more than a third of the Courage’s season goal total and, as the Thorns learned earlier this month, is a threat in the air and with the ball at her feet.
For as talented as Ordóñez is, North Carolina doesn’t have as many threatening players as it did even a season ago and are amid a season to forget. It’s the perfect opportunity for the Thorns to pick up a rare win at WakeMed Soccer Park and maintain its unbeaten form on the road this season.
For the Thorns, it’s time to get down to business
The Thorns find themselves in a great position as summer soon transitions to fall: at the top of the table and with at least a game in hand over most teams.
Now, Portland will use up one of its games in hand against the Courage and will need to make it count by taking home all three points. Wilkinson’s team recently wrapped up the 2022 Women’s International Champions Cup, which means that for the rest of the season focus rests solely on the playoffs.
It’s a big week for the Thorns, who also have a “six-point showdown” against the Wave on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. PT, FOX 12 PLUS, TICKETS). Currently level with the Southern California side on 28 points, the Thorns can go three points clear at the top of the table before that game kicks off.
Following the weekend, Portland embarks on a pivotal two-game road swing that begins in Orlando, Florida, and ends in Kansas City, Kansas. With seven games left, the finish line is in sight. Late season sprints for the playoffs –– or, in the Thorns case, for the NWSL Shield –– are beginning to take shape. Things are real now and Portland hopes to get hot at the right time.