NWSL Game of the Week: Washington Spirit at Portland Thorns FC

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While two of the league’s early powers face off Saturday in Overland Park (Lauren Cheney and FC Kansas City hosting Sydney Leroux and the Boston Breakers), a battle from teams at different ends of the NWSL’s early spectrum will take place in Portland. On Sunday afternoon, the Thorns FC, fresh off their first loss of the season, will host Washington, a team who broke out Thursday in Tukwila.

A rematch of the teams’ first meeting two weeks ago, Portland hosting Washington is this round’s ProSoccerTalk NWSL Game of the Week.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Opposites in almost every way

By now you know: Portland was almost everyone’s favorite to win this league. And if that’s one of the few things you’ve heard about the new women’s league – that Portland has Alex Morgan (above); and Christine Sinclair; and these great facilities; and oh my god it’s women’s soccer’s Shangri-La — you probably haven’t heard much about Washington, who were the consensus pick to finish last. Go back two months, and this match looked like David knocking on Goliath’s door, only with five-digits worth of neighbors heckling David while doing do.

The contrast between the two sides extends beyond preseason expectations. Portland was giving an established, potent attack while Washington has had to rely on drafted kids. The Spirit have the likes of Lori Lindsey and Diana Matheson in midfield, while the Thorns had to turn to free agency during Tobin Heath’s Parisian sojourn. Portland was given a bedrock center half (Rachel Buehler) while the Spirit’s allocated defender (Ali Krieger) is a fullback, yet Washington was given Ashlyn Harris, to date the league’s best keeper.

Leave those initial impressions behind and fast-forward to mid-May, where all the lip service the league’s coaches have given to the quality of each side – arguments encouraging fans and media to look beyond the big names — is starting to have merit. Back in March, their comments seemed like empty platitudes – the kind of hogwash that’s more American folklore than something that correlates to reality. Overlooked, under-appreciated Washington, whose attack was considered one of the league’s weakest, just exploded for four goals against Seattle. And Portland? They were shocked at home by Sky Blue, with a late song from Taylor Lytle giving Jim Gabarra’s a 1-0 win. Goliath’s not so big, David’s not so small, and the rash predictions of a preseason spent evaluating teams we’d never before seen has proved predictably fallible.

Portland and Washington may have been at opposite ends of March’s spectrum, but the gap appears to be closing. Despite their strong record (now 4-1-1), the Thorns are still struggling to meet their potential, while after a break out performance in Tukwila, the Spirit may have just received a first glimpse of their’s.

After Sunday’s game, comparisons to David and Goliath may prove as foolish as our preseason assumptions.

NWSL Standings

Pos. Team GP Pts. +/- PST
Rank
1 Portland 6 13 +5 3
2 Sky Blue 6 13 +4 5
3 Boston 4 8 +4 2
5 W. New York 5 7 +0 4
5 Kansas City 4 7 +2 1
6 Washington 6 6 +0 6
7 Chicago 5 2 -7 7
8 Seattle 6 1 -8 8

2. Young, talented, and unproven: Spirit’s attack still coming into its own

It’s not that Washington got a bad allocation, as far as their attackers were concerned. They didn’t get any help up top. One goalkeeper, three defenders, three midfielders – no forwards. That meant Mike Jorden and the Spirit organization were reliant on the supplemental draft, college players, and limited free agency to forge an attack, a daunting task given each team’s financial constraints.

Come Week 1, Washington had three main options:

  • With the second overall pick in the college draft, Washington went for Florida State’s Tiffany McCarty, a local product who had spent time with the W-League’s Washington Freedom. Only 5’4″, McCarty has the speed to beat anybody in the league, though finding an end product has proved more difficult than blowing past some of the world’s best defenders.
  • Stephanie Ochs, an industrious striker from San Diego, was selected third overall in WPS’s last draft before that league officially folded in 2012. After a year in relative limo, spending some time with the U.S. U-23s, Ochs signed on with Washington, her work rate a potentially potent complement to McCarty.
  • Caroline Miller, last year’s ACC Offensive Player of the Year, slipped into the college draft’s second round. A consistent part of the U.S.’s youth national teams, the former Virginia attacker was seen a possible Week 1 starter, even if she’s eventually settled into a substitute’s role.

They represented three lottery tickets. In a league where few teams have more than one true goal-scoring threat, all Jorden needed is for one to come good. Combined with Diana Matheson’s play making and Lori Lindsey’s occasional attacking contributions, the Spirit could be viable. It was just a matter of getting one player to click.

Early, though, it wasn’t happening. The Spirit scored one goal in each of their first five games, with Matheson being the team’s only consistent threat. Long balls that tried to use McCarty’s speed weren’t being converted into chances, while Och’s determination was often left unrewarded.

On Thursday, however, that changed. Perhaps a floundering Reign FC side contributed to the outburst, but after flying cross-country for a battle of winless sides, Washington finally broke through. McCarty scored her second goal of the season. Matheson found her fourth. Defenders Krieger and Tori Huster also got on the scoresheet as Washington tied a (young) league record for goals in a game: four. The Spirit won, 4-2.

Along the way, Ochs and Miller also made contributions, providing a glimpse of how Washington’s attack may come around before their lottery tickets are cashed. As long as his Jorden’s young attackers can threaten, the game opens up for players like Matheson, who’s now tied for the league lead in goals.

Washington’s forwards are still be a work in progress, but with nine goals in six games (as many as team in the league), they may not have to wait for something to click. Perhaps something already has.

source: AP3. Tactics or talent? There’s a problem in Portland’s midfield

When the Thorns opened the season with a 1-1 draw at Kansas City, many remarked on the trouble Cindy Parlow Cone’s midfield had in Overland Park, the quartet of Angie Kerr, Allie Long, Nikki Washington and Becky Edwards unable to generate chances for Morgan and Sinclair. Since, Cone has made adjustments, dropping Sinclair into Kerr’s spot while the team continues becoming more familiar with each other.

It hasn’t helped that Portland has played four games on the road. Half their matches have been on the type of multi-purpose, turf surfaces that most midfield creativity. While every team’s facing similar problems as they try to establish a style and a systems, Portland’s time on the road combined with a want to play a possession-style has presented the Thorns with some distinct obstacles.

Thursday, however, those excuses went out the window. Against a Sky Blue team who, like their previous opponents, sat deep and dared the Thorns to break them down, Portland still seemed to lack ideas. And this wasn’t on the road, on a bad field. This was at home, on the same field they practiced on all week. Still, the movement Cone had promoted all preseason was non-existent. There was no combination play, no significant buildup. The team was playing into Sky Blue’s jam-packed block.

Having carried a four-game winning streak into Thursday’s game, Portland is clearly capable of winning despite their shortcomings. But they can’t reach their potential without improvement. The cohesion and familiarity, which has only been evident on one goal this year (their second last Saturday at Chicago), needs to improve. They need to draw compact defenses out of their positions, and if they can’t, they have to kind a way to play wide. To date, the Thorns have had almost no presence down the flanks, their wide midfielders pinching in to contribute to the congestion.

That’s meant Long (left midfield) has been in focus, with onlookers asking if there’s more that can be done to serve Morgan and Sinclair. Same goes for Washington (right midfield, pictured), though at some point, when the players are repeatedly trying the same, unsuccessful approaches, you have to look beyond their individual play. Why are the Thorns persistently trying to work through the middle? Why aren’t they going wide, be it with by more readily overlapping their fullbacks, overloading a flank, or just playing behind their opposing fullbacks? Instead of trying to go through teams’ two-woman shields, why aren’t they playing in, out, and around the defense, trying to pull players out of position while encouraging Morgan to make better runs behind the center halves?

Perhaps Long and Washington need to do more, but when you consider how Portland’s played through six games, it’s unclear they’ve been asked to do anything different. At some point, the team needs to change it up.

QUICK HITS

Portland Thorns FC Washington Spirit
Star to Watch Christine Sinclair – The natural forward has been draw into attacking midfield to try and solve the team’s biggest problem. She’s still Portland’s best player, but while adjusting to her new role, Sinclair has yet to discover how to balance a midfielder’s demands with her goal-scoring talent. Diana Matheson – Arguably the league’s best player after five-plus weeks, the Canadian international is capable of creating chances by going either from the middle or by going wide. To date, however, she’s been handling the goal-scoring herself. She’ll go into Sunday’s match tied for he league lead in goals (four).
Still Important Alex Morgan – The U.S. international leads the league in shots and shots on goal, but the quality of chances need to improve. Part of that is on Morgan’s teammates to put her in better spots. Part of that is on Morgan, who’s still adapting to a markedly different style than what she’s flourished in for the U.S. national team. Ashlyn Harris – No NWSL keeper has been better about decisively coming off her line to collect opposition through balls. If Portland’s plan to beat Washington depends on running through the Spirit defense, they better hope Harris is off her game.
Win if … … they either add another trick to their attack, thus finding a way around what’s bound to be blockade in the midfield, or they get something special from Sinclair or Morgan. … they stay tight and deep through the middle, eschew risks for organization in defense, and find a moment’s magic from Matheson going forward.

OTHER GAMES, WEEK 6

Seattle Reign 2-4 Washington Spirit (Thursday) – While we’re only six games into the season, you have to consider whether Reign FC can come back from this. If there was one game they were going to win, it was this one – returning home, against another winless side. Instead, they become the first team to give up four goals at home.

Portland Thorns 0-1 Sky Blue FC (Thursday) – Jim Gabarra’s team moves into a tie for first after an 80th minute blast from Lytle handed Portland their first loss. One of the least-entertaining match of the season, Lytle’s long shot was the only real test either keeper saw. Karina LeBlanc, ultimately had no chance to stop the winner.

FC Kansas City vs. Boston Breakers (Saturday, 8:35 p.m. Eastern) – The Blues are coming off their first loss of the season, falling 2-1 at Western New York. Venturing out of the Eastern time zone for the first time this year, Boston looks to remain the league’s last undefeated team. Watch for the how Leigh Ann Robinson and Lauren Sesselmann deal with Heather O’Reilly.

Portland Thorns vs. Washington Spirit (Sunday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern)

Seattle Reign FC vs. Sky Blue FC (Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern) – Last weekend, Sky Blue got two first half goals en route to a 2-0 win over Seattle at Yurcak Field. While a change of venue would seem to embolden the Reign, there’s an increasing feeling the first-year club is in a flat spin. Based on mid-week results, it appears these teams are going in opposite directions.

Lionel Messi goal, assist leads Argentina awakening vs Mexico

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Lionel Messi’s second-half goal gave Argentina’s World Cup hopes a massive lift as the Albiceleste broke through against stubborn Mexico to win 2-0 in Lusail on Saturday.

Enzo Fernandez, 21, also scored for Argentina in the win, which comes after a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in the opener.

STREAM LIVE ARGENTINA vs MEXICO

Mexico’s brave performance was broken by Messi’s splendid finish and now Mexico (1 point) needs to beat Saudi Arabia (3 points) and get help from Argentina (3 points) vs Poland (4 points) to make the Round of 16.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]


Lionel Messi: Of course he did.

The world’s — maybe history’s — greatest ever player had a frustrating day and spent 65 minutes thinking this could’ve been his last World Cup match.

Twenty-five minutes later, he had a goal and an assist and Argentina was heading to Poland likely a draw or better away from going to the knockout rounds.

C’est la Messi.

Mexico executed Tata Martino’s masterful plan for over an hour and looked set to walk away with a point. Messi wasn’t getting the ball in dangerous spaces and Lautaro Martinez was so ineffective that he was taken off the pitch.

Then: One hesitation when Angel Di Maria spotted Messi. Two touches for the Atomic Ant. 1-0.

Messi would later assist young Enzo Fernandez’s goal to re-certify his status as one of the very best to do it in any team sport. Argentina only had 0.28 expected goals on the day but when you have two magic shots, it’ll get the job done.


Stars of the show

Lionel Messi

Nicolas Otamendi

Hector Moreno

Argentina vs Mexico
fotmob.com

Lionel Messi goal video: GOAT things

Enzo Fernandez goal video: Pearler of a finish delivers Messi assist


How to watch Argentina vs Mexico live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Saturday Nov. 26
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

It’s Messi, of course, who says he’s playing in his final World Cup, but it’s also about who’s going to step up as a difference maker for Argentina. Lautaro Martinez had a goal taken off the board for a razor-thin offside versus Saudi Arabia, while Julian Alvarez had a shot saved in his sub’s role and both Paulo Dybala and Angel Correa were unused subs in the opener.

Mexico’s midfield was excellent to start the tournament. Will Hector Herrera again join Edson Alvarez and Luis Chavez is setting the tone for Tata Martino’s team? And can El Tri find a finisher after Henry Martin and Co. failed to find the back of the goal versus Poland.


Argentina quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 3
World Cup titles: 2 (1978, 1986)
World Cup appearances: 17
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (2nd place)
Coach: Lionel Scaloni
Key players: Lionel Messi, Angel de Maria, Lautaro Martinez

Mexico quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 13
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONCACAF (2nd place)
Coach: Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino
Key players: Guillermo Ochoa, Hector Herrera, Raul Jimenez

Belgium vs Morocco: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Belgium will look to get back to their best and make it two wins from two in the group stage but Morocco will make it extremely tough for Kevin de Bruyne and Co.

STREAM LIVE BELGIUM v MOROCCO

Roberto Martinez saw his side totally dominated by Canada in their Group F opener but they took their one big chance and won the game, largely thanks to poor finishing from Canada and Thibaut Courtois saving a penalty kick. The No. 2 ranked team in the world has to improve. Fast.

Morocco caused Croatia plenty of problems in their opening game and a draw was a fair result as their high-pressing caused Croatia a lot of problems. They will look to do exactly the same against Belgium and could have plenty of joy if Hakim Ziyech is found in dangerous areas in the final third.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub

Here is everything you need for Belgium vs Morocco. 


How to watch Belgium vs Morocco live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 8am ET – Sunday, November 27
Stadium: Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor 
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Kevin de Bruyne was almost apologetic after being named man of the match against Canada as he said he and his teammates really struggled in their World Cup opener. Belgium have to give their back three more protection as they are really susceptible to speedy wide players cutting in wide and teams playing direct and cutting out their midfield playmakers. Roberto Martinez will surely start the likes of Meunier and Onana in this game to try and give Belgium a little more control and solidity. Michy Batshuayi is expected to continue to fill in for the injured Romelu Lukaku once again.

Morocco will try and do exactly what Canada did to Belgium and they have the players to do it. Ziyech and Boufal will cause problems out wide and Morocco looked solid defensively against Croatia. There is a real whiff of an upset in the air around this one as Morocco will be roared on by their large group of supporters in Qatar.


Belgium quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 2
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 14
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Roberto Martinez
Key players: Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard

Morocco Rica quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 22
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CAF
Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic
Key players: Achraf Hakimi, Yassine Bounou, Youssef En-Nesyri, Romain Saiss


World Cup 2022 Group E: Spain, Germany, Japan, Costa Rica schedule, fixtures, rankings

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Japan and Spain sent early messages in Group E with an upset of Germany and demolition of Costa Rica, respectively, to start the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

[ LIVE: Watch World Cup en Espanol en Peacock ]

Japan reached the Round of 16 at the last World Cup and gave Belgium everything it could handle before bowing out 3-2, while Costa Rica surprised everyone in 2014 when it emerged atop a Group D with England, Italy, and Uruguay, then beating Greece in the Round of 16.

Of course, Spanish boss Luis Enrique and Germany’s Hansi Flick will be fancying themselves the favorites to emerge from the group, but the latter now knows better than ever before that anything can happen in Qatar after a 2-1 loss to Japan. Spain hammered Costa Rica 7-0 in their opener and they look the real deal.

[ MORE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub

Below is everything you need to know on World Cup 2022 Group E.


Group E schedule (all times ET)

Recap/highlights: Spain 7-0 Costa Rica – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Germany 1-2 Japan – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Sunday, November 27: Spain vs Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm
Sunday, November 27: Japan vs Costa Rica – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 5am
Thursday, December 1: Japan vs Spain – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm
Thursday, December 1: Costa Rica vs Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm

How To Watch Group E matches live

  • When: November 23-December 1 2022
  • Group stage game kick-off times: 5am, 8am, 11am, 2pm (all ET)
  • Location: Qatar
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
  • Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

Follow along with ProSoccerTalk for the latest news, scores, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 World Cup, and be sure to subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube!


Group E table

1. Spain — 3 points (+7 GD)
2. Japan — 3 points (+1)
3. Germany — 0 points (-1)
4. Costa Rica — 0 points (-7)


Spain

Current FIFA world ranking: 7
World Cup titles: 1 (2010)
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Luis Enrique
Key players: Rodri, Pedri, Pau Torres, Jordi Alba

Germany

Current FIFA world ranking: 11
World Cup titles: 4 (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
World Cup appearances: 20
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Hansi Flick
Key players: Manuel Neuer, Antonio Rudiger, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka

Costa Rica

Current FIFA world ranking: 31
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified from CONCACAF via interconfederation playoffs
Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez
Key players: Keylor Navas, Joel Campbell, Celso Borges, Bryan Ruiz

Japan

Current FIFA world ranking: 24
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 7
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Hajime Moriyasu
Key players: Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Takumi Minamino, Daichi Kamada

Croatia vs Canada: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Newly famous international darlings Canada will try again for a number of firsts, when they face Croatia in their second game at the 2022 World Cup on Sunday.

STREAM CROATIA vs CANADA LIVE

Canada outshone many of the tournament’s heavyweights during the first round of group games, ultimately falling just short of their first World Cup point and, had things gone just a bit differently, their first win.

Group F is an intriguing one, with favorites Belgium struggling in their opener and Croatia and Morocco both failing to impress against one another. As things stand, it’s wide open for anyone (and everyone).

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Croatia vs Canada. 


How to watch Croatia vs Canada live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 11am ET, Sunday (November 27)
Stadium: Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

On one hand, Canada were downright brilliant when they made their World Cup return, 36 years in the making on Wednesday. On the other hand, they lost 1-0 to Belgium and are the only team in Group F without a point thus far. The Canucks won plaudits (and new fans) as they showed no fear whatsoever playing against the no. 2 team in the world and were comfortably the better side on the day, so said Belgium boss Roberto Martinez after the game. Alphonso Davies was denied by Thibaut Courtois from the penalty spot, with the game still 0-0 and Canada seeking its first-ever World Cup goal (yeah, that too). Sunday, perhaps.

As for Croatia, their opening draw with Morocco raised a few red flags for a nation that went all the way to the World Cup final just four (and a half) years ago. With five of 11 starters age 30 or older, Croatia have very little range and mobility, and no explosiveness anywhere in the side. Despite holding nearly 65 percent of possession in the game against Morocco, Croatia managed just five shots in 90 minutes (two on target) and a paltry 0.52 xG. If things don’t turn around on Sunday, it’ll be the end of an iconic era that, unfortunately, lasted one cycle too long.


Croatia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic

Canada quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 41
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 2
How they qualified: Qualified from CONCACAF (1st place)
Coach: John Herdman
Key players: Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Milan Borjan, Jonathan Osorio

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