The 2018 Thorns Spring Invitational kicked off on Sunday and the Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash and U-23 United States Women's National Team will be hosted for the second consecutive year by the defending 2017 NWSL Champion Portland Thorns FC. The Thorns are hosting their third preseason tournament, but it is the second year that these four teams will be competing.
The Thorns are coming off an extremely successful 2017 in which they beat the North Carolina Courage 1-0 in the 2017 NWSL Championship Game. The Red Stars made the playoffs in 2017, but they fell to the Courage in a tense semi-final match. The Houston Dash had a devastating season. Their head coach was fired a few weeks into the season, and the interim coach was replaced by head coach of the South African women's national team, Vera Pauw. The Dash finished eighth in 2017, and now that the Boston Breakers are no longer in the league, they are the only team in the NWSL that has played a season but has not made the playoffs.
All three teams have undergone drastic changes leading up to the 2018 season. The Thorns lost Amandine Henry, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Nadia Nadim, and Ashleigh Sykes, but they attempted to replace them with a few big-name Australian players. The Red Stars and Dash participated in a major draft-day trade that sent Sam Kerr to Chicago and Christen Press to Houston. Houston gave up Carli Lloyd in the trade, but Press recently told Houston that she would not be playing for the team in 2018.
Houston Dash vs U-23 USWNT
The Houston Dash opened the tournament with the 2-1 victory over the U-23 USWNT. The two teams played to the same result when they met in 2017.
The game got rolling quickly for the Dash. England women's national team midfielder Rachel Daly drove toward the corner and sent a beautiful cross into the box where Veronica Latsko was there to head the ball home. Latsko was selected by the Dash in the 2018 NWSL College Draft. The Dash held that 1-0 lead through the end of the first half.
The second half started in a similar manner for Houston. Kristie Mewis took a free kick and the ball was once again headed into the goal, this time by Amber Brooks. Brooks scored the game-winning goal for the Dash in the matchup between these two teams in 2017. The U-23s would get on the board in the 73rd minute when Catarina Macario placed a perfect free kick over the wall and into the top corner of goal.
The Dash must be pleased with the result after the distractions of the past week and the significant overhaul that the team underwent during the off-season. The matches with Chicago and Portland will provide Pauw with much-needed information on how the new pieces work together against future opponents.
Portland Thorns FC vs Chicago Red Stars
The tournament host Portland Thorns FC were unable to win their opening match, falling to the Chicago Red Stars in a close 1-0 match. The Thorns were playing their first preseason game, but Chicago had already played two closed-door scrimmages against collegiate squads.
The game was evenly played through the first half and ended with a 0-0 scoreline. Notably, Britt Eckerstrom started in goal for Portland and 2018 NWSL College Draft selection Emily Boyd started in goal for Chicago. Neither of those players project to be the starting keepers for their respective teams. All three players selected by the Portland Thorns in the Boston Breakers Dispersal Draft played in the match; Midge Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu started for the team, and Angela Salem came on at halftime. Chicago's Sofia Huerta was the only United States women's national team player that made an appearance in the match.
The second half started evenly, but things swung for the Red Stars when midfielder Arin Gilliland came on as a substitute in the 59th minute. It took her just three minutes to find the back of the net off a pass from Yuki Nagasato. The two sides would go back and forth, but they were unable to alter the 1-0 scoreline. Sam Kerr made an appearance for the Red Stars in the 72nd minute as a sub, and both sides used 18 players in the match. The only available players that did not see game time were the replacement goalkeepers for the teams.
The next set of matches will take place on Wednesday.
The Houston Dash will face off against the Chicago Red Stars at 1:30 pm PT.
The Portland Thorns FC will host the U-23 USWnt at 7:30 pm PT.