The Chicago Red Stars host the Portland Thorns on Thursday night at SeatGeek Stadium. Both teams are playing their second game in the NWSL Challenge Cup group tournament.

Yesterday I sat down with Grant Little of Stumptown Footy to talk about all things Portland Thorns, what we as Red Star fans should be watching out for, and Grant’s predictions for tonight’s game.

Born in Michigan, Little began his journalism career in the Real Madrid office before taking on the role of senior reporter for the Thorns at Stumptown Footy.

He thinks Thursday’s game will be close, but the Red Stars could struggle against a talented Portland team even if their best players don’t play.

The thorns are on our side.

The Thorns are without players who are currently on the U.S. Women’s National Team, and the Red Stars will feel that too. Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsey Horan and Sophia Smith will all be out for the Thorns, but given the strong performance against Kansas City, Little thinks Red Stars fans should play it safe anyway.

Although Kansas City gave the Thorns a better than expected performance, the Thorns deserved the win. According to Little, the Portland game was better. The Thorns got off to a strong start when Rocky Rodriguez gave Portland the lead eight minutes from time. Tyler Lussie’s goal in the second period gave the Thorns a 2-0 lead. It felt like we were at cruising speed, Little said, but Kansas City fought the whole game.

Contest

The Thorns struggled to get balls off their defensive half against Kansas City, especially from inside their own penalty box. Since the Red Stars will create many chances against the Dash in open play, set-ups may be the best way to score against this Portland team.

Few believe the Red Stars can use wingers like Kealia Watt to attack Portland’s tight end structure. Because we play with a diamond, there will be a tight midfield, Little said. If Morgan Gautrath and Watt can play well together, they have room (for offense).

Still, the Thorns have a lot of talent and will be a force to be reckoned with, as evidenced by their overall performance against Kansas City. Some believe there are several keys to a Portland victory, including cashing in on their own actions and pressuring the Red Stars midfield.

The Thorns have a habit of pressuring their opponents when the ball comes in from the flanks. In that case, the Thorns would like a striker, two midfielders and a right back to keep the opponent in their box and thus limit their passing opportunities. If we can limit the influence of midfielders Kayla Sharples and Daniel Colaprico on the wings when passing, the Red Stars may struggle to move the ball in the final third.

Expected composition

Portland XI Grant: 4-4-2 Diamond

GK: Adrianna French.

Defense (left to right): Madison Pogarch – Kelly Hubley – Natalia Cuicca – Kristen Westphal (presumably injured by Menges).

Midfield : Megan Klingenberg – Celeste Burey – Rocky Rodriguez – Marissa Everett

Let’s go: Tyler Lussie to Morgan Weaver.

Predictions:

Grant: 1-0 Portland

Justin: 1-1

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