Pride vs. Thorns: Previews and Predictions

The Orlando Pride will play their final home match of the regular season on Saturday as they host the Portland Thorns. The stakes are high for the home team: a win and they guarantee they are in the playoffs, as Seattle sits five points out of playoff position with two matches left to play going into the weekend. If the Pride can keep that gap more than three points by the end of the weekend, there is no way for any team to knock them from the post season. And Portland has already clinched a playoff spot. Casual fans might be tempted to hope that Portland would use the fact that they have locked up a playoff spot as an occasion to rest key players for this match, but I don't think that's likely to happen for three important reasons.

The first reason is that Portland can still wind up winning the NWSL Shield for the most points in the league if they win out and get some help from the North Carolina Courage dropping some points. The second reason is that the Thorns have the opportunity to help their keeper, Adrianna Franch, set a record for most clean sheets in a season. The third reason is one of the standout players for the national team: Tobin Heath. Heath has been out of the Portland lineup for most of the season recovering from a back injury, but she played in the recent USWNT match against New Zealand and if she is healthy I have to believe she will want to play in the final two regular season matches to get more minutes under her belt before the playoffs.

So the match should be very entertaining, as it pits two excellent teams against each other, both of whom are extremely motivated to try to take all three points. For Portland, they hope it will be a chance to get to know the pitch at Orlando City Stadium before they would like to return on October 14 to play in the NWSL Final. For the Pride, they hope to deliver their fans the first playoff berth in team history and defend their fortress in their final home match of the season.

Players to Watch

If you want to see some star power, this will be a great match to watch. There will be plenty of great stars on both teams.

Portland brings a number of dynamic players to the match, befitting of a team that sits a mere two points out of first place in the league. Leading the scoring for Portland is Christine Sinclair, who has 8 goals on the season so far. Close behind her are Nadia Nadim and Hayley Raso, who each have 5 goals and 3 assists. Raso also bears watching as a physical player, for she is among the league leaders in yellow card accumulation, with 5 to her name on the season so far. Meghan Klingenberg leads Portland in assists on the season with 6 to her credit. And then of course there is the always dangerous Tobin Heath, who is one of the most dynamic players in the league when she is healthy. As a fan of the USWNT, I hope her injury troubles are behind her. But if she feels like she's not quite ready to take the pitch to start the match tomorrow I certainly won't shed any tears. And then there is Adrianna Franch. The Thorns goalkeeper tied the league record of 10 clean sheets in Week 20, and her team would love to help her set a new record before the end of the season. The reason for such a high total of clean sheets: in 21 matches she and her defense have only allowed 18 goals all season, the second lowest total in the NWSL.

But the ladies in purple may have a thing or two to say about that. Orlando's roster of extreme firepower should be no surprise to anyone. Of course leading the way are the dynamic duo of Marta and Alex Morgan. Marta leads the team with 12 goals and 6 assists, while Morgan has added 9 goals and 3 assists of her own in only 10 league starts this season. Between the fact that those two don't melt in the heat and their M & M initials, there ought to be some clever two-pole or TIFO ideas that fans could create if the team is fortunate enough to play in the finals at home next month. Of course Tom Sermanni's team is filled with great talent up and down the entire roster. Camila has 4 goals and 5 assists on the season, and Chioma Ubogagu has added 4 goals of her own to go with 2 assists. All in all, 11 different Pride players have found the back of the net this season, while 11 more have registered assists. That puts the Orlando Pride at the very top of the NWSL in both goals (42) and assists (28) on the season. 

Prediction

It's the NWSL Match of the Week on Lifetime Network, and it will kick off in the hottest part of the afternoon at 4pm. Of course tomorrow the weather forecasters call for rain to start before dawn and predict a higher than average chance of rain all day up until 5pm. If anything like that comes to pass, we could see sauna-like conditions on the pitch, which one hopes would favor the home side. As I mentioned before, both teams have strong motivation to try to win this match, and you have two of the strongest sides in the league squaring off. I am probably guaranteeing a close match by saying this, but I am feeling very confident in our ladies. I am going to predict that the Orlando Pride stamp their authority on this match and win big, 4 - 1.

What is your prediction on the match? Do you think the Pride will earn a big win, or do you think Portland's stingy defense will push the playoff race to the final match of the regular season for the Pride? Let me know in the comments below!