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NWSL Challenge Cup Preview: Portland Thorns vs OL Reign
The million dollar prize pool from the Challenge Cup is still up for grabs.
The NWSL is now without their Women’s World Cup players. Portland has 6 WWC participants: Sophia Smith (USA), Crystal Dunn (USA), Christine Sinclair (Canada), Adriana Leon (Canada), Rocky Rodriguez (Costa Rica), and Hina Sugita (Japan).
The Portland Thorns will face off against OL Reign at Providence Park on Wednesday at 7:30pm PT (Streaming on Paramount +).
OL Reign currently lead the West Division in the challenge cup with 7 points (3 games played) while Portland and San Diego have 3 points each (2 games played apiece). Angel City have a single point through 3 games.
Portland is in a tough situation to make the NWSL Challenge Cup knockout rounds. They are in the group of death and winning the division is a tough task. Finishing as the top 2nd place team will also be a difficult ask.
This game against OL Reign has become a must win for the Thorns. If they win and secure 3 points, Portland will only be behind a point with a game in hand. A draw or a loss essentially leaves it up to being the best 2nd place team to make the semi-finals.
Both teams are playing 3 games in a week, but the Thorns have an extra day of rest.
Projected Starting XIs
Beckman - Hubly - Nally - Klingenberg
Reyes - Porter - Moultrie
D’Aquila - Betfort - Vasconcelos
Brown - Malonson - Hiatt - Holmes
Van der Jagt - Athens - Stanton
King - Bennett - Latsko
Stumptown Footy’s Prediction
These challenge cup games are incredibly difficult to predict. OL Reign have signed five players as national team replacement players, but Portland has not announced any reinforcements quite yet.
The key to this game will be who makes less mistakes. Expect both coaches to ask players to press high up and try to win the ball back. The team that can impose their game, will come out on top.
Even as a midweek Challenge Cup game, Portland needs this game and will come out hungrier.
Prediction: 2-1 Portland
Goals: King (OL Reign), Izzy D’Aquila, Michele Vasconcelos
Assists: Athens (OL Reign), Moultrie x2
Players to Watch
Izzy D’Aquila: The first round pick has been asked to play quite a bit of winger and it may continue this game, but she’ll be the starting 9 moving forward for regular season games while Sophia Smith is away at the WWC. She possesses the best aerial ability on the team and one of the best finishers in front of goal.
Reyna Reyes: She was a terrific midfielder and fullback at Alabama. Her abilities may actually suit her better in the midfield and may have a chance to show that during the WWC window. Reyes is smart, strong, and has all the tools to get the job done against OL Reign.
Tziarra King: The Thorns will have no answer for her speed unless Menges or Kuikka starts. King is an instinctive player and has an incredible work rate. Portland will have to put extra attention towards her.
*If Elyse Bennett starts, my prediction will be a draw. She has started over Huitema for a stretch of games and now will be their most important player for the next few months.