Season Finale Preview: Portland Thorns @ Angel City with Kamran Nia.
The Portland Thorns have a chance to clinch the shield while Angel City needs the win the make the playoffs.
NWSL Decision Day is upon us and will be the most intense day of footy in the league’s history. Only the Portland Thorns and San Diego Wave have clinched playoff spots meaning there’s still four spots up for grabs. There are eight teams still in contention for the remaining spots from third to sixth.
The league’s decision to have Decision Day was a no-brainer and now the games will have even the most significance and utmost importance.
All games will be on Paramount+, Sunday at 2pm PST.
*CBS Sports Network will air a live program showcasing all six matches.
Portland controls their own destiny for the NWSL shield and heads into their finale against Angel City with their third consecutive chance to clinch the top spot (1st in 2021, 2nd in 2022).
Angel City needs a win and some help to make the postseason. Under Becki Tweed they have been the most consistent team down the stretch (7-5-1).
Both teams both need three points.
Match Preview with Kamran Nia of the Sporting Tribune
Stumptown Footy: Could it get any better for a regular season finale? One team is trying to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and another is trying to win the NWSL Shield after losing it on the final day last year.
Kamran Nia: It is hard to picture a Decision Day with more possible scenarios than the one on Sunday. Angel City is one point off a playoff spot and likely needs all three points to make the playoffs. The Portland Thorns have clinched a playoff spot and are at the top of the table. However, if the Thorns do not secure three points, the second-place San Diego Wave could reclaim the No. 1 spot and win the NWSL Shield. There are high stakes for both teams, making their match compelling.
STF: Angel City and Portland Thorns both have great fanbases, but this time, it'll be at BMO Stadium. What type of atmosphere are you expecting?
Kamran Nia: The atmosphere at BMO Stadium will be exceptional as Sunday’s matchup is one of the most critical matches in Angel City’s two-season history. Angel City fans regularly pack the stadium, averaging close to 20,000 fans per match. Anything short of a 22,000-fan sellout on Sunday would be a surprise. The crowd will likely be loud, trying to will their favorite team to victory.
STF: Becki Tweed has done an exceptional job for ACFC, do you think she will be given a chance to be permanent head coach? What is the feeling in the locker room with her leading the way? Why has Tweed been so successful in her short time, do you think?
Kamran Nia: We will see if Tweed is given a chance as a head coach next season, but she has done an excellent job in her time; Angel City has only lost once with her at the helm. Training sessions are competitive, and she has found a way to motivate the team. They have held leads and rallied from behind more often. Tactically, she has utilized a double-pivot well, allowing midfielder Savannah McCaskill to employ her talents in the attack. Tweed has done more, but those are a couple of points.
STF: Each Angel City and Portland Thorns game seems to always bring a lot of excitement and craziness; which players do you think will be the keys for ACFC in this match? Also, which matchup will you be on the lookout for?
Kamran Nia: Angel City and the Thorns’ matches always bring excitement. Goalkeeper Bella Bixby equalizing for the Thorns in stoppage time against Angel City was one of the craziest moments of the 2023 NWSL season. There is not a particular matchup that I will be looking at. Instead, I focus on Angel City’s forwards against the Thorns’ back line. Many players joined Angel City’s attack in their recent match against the Houston Dash, and they were clinical with their passing in the second half. It will be interesting to see if they can replicate such efforts against the Thorns earlier on; starting the match well with the crowd fired up could be key.
STF: I'm not sure either fanbase will want to hear this, but I have this game as a draw 1-1. What is your score prediction, and why?
Kamran Nia: Someone is going to win this match. My prediction is 2-1, Angel City. Angel City brings momentum with them into their final match of the regular season. The crowd could be the loudest we have seen this season, which could be advantageous for Angel City. I predict the game will play out similar to Angel City’s match against OL Reign in late August, which Angel City led early and drew on the crowd’s energy down the stretch as they protected a 2-1 lead.
Projected Starting XIs
Natalia Kuikka - Becky Sauerbrunn - Emily Menges - Reyna Reyes
Crystal Dunn/Rocky Rodriguez - Olivia Moultrie - Sam Coffey - Hina Sugita
Hannah Betfort - Morgan Weaver
DiDi Haračić (If healthy)
M.A. Vignola (If healthy) - Paige Nielsen - Sarah Gorden - Ali Riley
Savannah McCaskill, Amandine Henry, Dani Weatherholt
Alyssa Thompson, Sydney Leroux, Claire Emslie
*Note from Kamran Nia: A few players who could be switched (e.g. Weatherholt and Madison Hammond, Sydney Leroux and Clarisse Le Bihan, etc.)
What to Expect
Angel City has the speed to beat Portland on the counter and they’ve exposed Portland on the backline repeatedly throughout their matchups this year.
However, don’t be surprised if ACFC play on the front-foot at home and make Portland defend for large stretches. The Thorns will definitely have their spells of possession, but can’t commit their fullbacks up as much if they want to win this game. Reyna Reyes would be a better fit with Natalia Kuikka for this particular matchup.
Both teams are going to have chances to score and it’ll come down to which team commits tracks back successfully on counterattacks.
The Thorns are not as equipped to absorb pressure, but with Becky Sauerbrunn they can soak up quite a bit more. They’ll want to take the crowd out of the game and control it with their midfield with possession. Everyone is comfortable handling the ball and escaping pressure which will be the key in this game.
I have this game as a draw 1-1, but would not shock me one bit if there were more goals. Angel City will find a goal on the counter and Portland will find one through midfield or a set piece.
*Sophia Smith will be available for this game and should get about 10-20 minutes.