Portland Thorns v Houston Dash: A Preview
When: Wednesday 22nd July, 12:30 pm EST, 5:30pm GMT
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
In the interest of full disclosure, I did not expect this to be the semi-final that it is. Regular readers of our NWSL Challenge Cup coverage will doubtless know I expected the North Carolina Courage to see off the Portland Thorns in the quarter final. I also expected Utah to see off Houston. If this tournament has taught us anything, aside from the fact that my predictions are worth diddly squat, it’s that this tournament is nothing but unpredictable.
Make no mistake, though. This game promises to be a riveting encounter. One sombre note will undoubtedly be the absence of Thorns stopper Bella Bixby. Bixby has had an outstanding tournament thus far, but will participate no further. The 'keeper has torn her ACL in training and will consequently be out for some considerable time. The team are also expected to be without Becky Sauerbrunn (left hip) and Sophia Smith (left knee). Adrianna French is another long-term absentee.
The Dash however, have no new injury concerns. The Dash had the mental fatigue of a penalty shootout to overcome against the Royals, but emerged otherwise unscathed. After getting off to a blistering start, at least in terms of the frequency of which this team put the ball in the ol' onion bag, the Dash have slowed somewhat. They have struggled for goals, going scoreless in their last two outings.
The Thorns haven’t been at their brilliant best either, particularly without the talismanic Tobin Heath. Mark Parsons's team will have taken a lot of heart from that combative, backs to the wall win over North Carolina. The Thorns showed their ability to dig deep and get the job done. Britt Eckerstrom's mammoth performance will have reinforced the team’s confidence in having her as number 1.
Lindsey Horan v Shea Groom
Both players are the creative engine rooms for their respective clubs. Horan has a lot of pressure on her shoulders, particularly in the absence of Heath. The USWNT star is the Thorns’ best player. Portland's progression against a resolute Houston team will rely heavily on Horan's impact.
The same can also be said of Shea Groom. She is the cog that needs to ensure she gets close enough to Rachel Daly, to ensure the England international isn’t as cut adrift as she was in the game against Washington. Groom is immensely talented and could be the difference maker for Houston.
Goalkeepers (3): Bella Bixby, Britt Eckerstrom, Adrianna Franch (FED-USA)
Defenders (9): Kelli Hubly, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Menges, Meaghan Nally (CDP), Madison Pogarch, Katherine Reynolds, Becky Sauerbrunn (FED-USA), Autumn Smithers, Christen Westphal
Midfielders (6): Celeste Boureille, Lindsey Horan (FED-USA), Emily Ogle, Rocky Rodríguez Rodriguez (INT-CRC), Angela Salem, Gabby Seiler
Forwards (7): Simone Charley, Marissa Everett, Tyler Lussi, Anika Rodriguez, Christine Sinclair (FED-CAN), Sophia Smith (CDP), Morgan Weaver (CDP)
Goalkeepers (3): Jane Campbell, Amanda Dennis, Lindsey Harris
Defenders (5): Allysha Chapman, Katie Naughton, Megan Oyster, Ally Prisock, Erin Simon
Midfielders (8): Shea Groom, Haley Hanson, Cece Kizer, Kristie Mewis, Christine Nairn, Cami Privett, Sophie Schmidt, Bri Visalli
Forward (8): Bridgette Andrzejewski (CDP), Rachel Daly (INT-ENG), Jamia Fields, Veronica Latsko, Maegan Kelly, Kayla McCoy, Nichelle Prince, Katie Stengel
By Dan Berridge