On Sunday at 6:00 p.m. ET, Portland Thorns FC will play their first match at their home stadium, Providence Park, of the 2019 National Women's Soccer League season. The team has been on the road for the last six matches, but it does mean that they will enjoy 12 of their final 18 games at home. The Chicago Red Stars will be the first team to experience the new atmosphere as the visitor. These two teams played to a thrilling 4-4 draw earlier in the season.
Portland hopes to find itself
The Thorns have had a mixed bag of results this season. They have been fortunate enough to play the Orlando Pride and Sky Blue FC each twice already this season, but they suffered a loss to the Washington Spirit two weekends ago. Without all-star midfielders Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan, the team has looked much less polished and occasionally struggles to maintain possession. All told, Portland will be missing nine players this weekend due to the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.
It is impossible to fill all of those positions with experienced players, so the newcomers will need to step up if they want to have a chance at winning their first home game. In the 1-0 win over Sky Blue FC last weekend, Midge Purce scored the lone goal, but it was rookie forward Simone Charley that stole the show. Charley was all over the pitch and looked like the type of player that could energize the offense and cause trouble for the Chicago back line.
Traditionally, Portland pushed both of their fullbacks way up the pitch, but with Ellie Carpenter away, the outside service role will fall mostly to Meghan Klingenberg. Exploiting the wide areas of the field will be important for Portland with their midfield mostly missing.
Chicago needs to score
After five games and six goals, superstar striker Sam Kerr has finally left the team. Last weekend, in their 2-0 loss against the Washington Spirit, Chicago created plenty of chances but was never able to find the back of the net. Fortunately for the Red Stars, Portland is a completely different team.
In an effort to build their attack, Chicago will likely push the ball right through the middle of the park, exploiting their superior midfield depth to control the game. Vanessa DiBernardo will be asked to play a dual role as offensive mastermind and stopgap against Portland counterattacks. Yuki Nagasato has been very efficient creating offensive opportunities so far this season, but it's hard to see who she will create those chances for without Kerr.
The obvious answer would be Michele Vasconcelos, but she may not be at the point in her career where she can be the focal point of an offense. If she isn't, expect defender Casey Short to push aggressively into the attack in an effort to jump start the team. Forward Katie Johnson will also be relied on, but she isn't much of a pure scorer.
This will be an excellent game between two quality sides, and there is a solid chance that the crowd will break the record for most fans at a regular season NWSL match.