With the U.S. Women’s National Team’s World Cup triumph now in the history books, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) takes center stage again this weekend.
The league carried on as normal throughout the duration of the World Cup but with the latter understandably receiving the lion’s share of attention, domestic soccer was relegated to an afterthought.
That perception is expected to change this weekend, which marks the first weekend a NWSL game will be broadcast by ESPN. The broadcaster recently signed a deal with the league to broadcast 14 games across its channels, with one match to be shown each weekend between now and the end of the season.
The honor of kicking off proceedings on ESPN falls to the Portland Thorns and Orlando Pride, who are third and eighth in the table respectively.
Both teams will be without their USWNT stars, who will return their respective clubs across the league next week.
That means Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Adrianna Finch and Emily Sonnett will not feature for Portland and Orlando will be without USWNT co-captain Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this weekend’s clash.
When and where is the game?
The Thorns’ home ground, Providence Park, hosts the game on Sunday with kick-off scheduled for 3 p.m. ET.
The fixture is the second of a three-game home-stand for the Thorns and a first road game since June 23 for the Pride.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPNEWS and is the first game televised live by the broadcaster as part of its new deal with the NWSL.
Coverage will be available via ESPN digital platforms and on the NWSL official website for those streaming it from abroad.
The Thorns suffered a 1-0 defeat in front of their own fans against Reign FC last weekend, relinquishing the lead at the top of the table to their rivals.
Portland dominated possession, but had just one shot on target and failed to create any meaningful chances before being punished by Celia Jimenez Delgado.
With 19 goals, Portland is the second-highest scoring team in the league but it has already conceded 13 goals, the most of any of the top four sides.
The Thorns might have defensive woes, but they are nowhere near as pronounced as the Pride’s. Orlando has conceded 27 goals in 12 matches so far, scoring just 12 times in the process.
The dismal defensive record goes a long way towards explaining why Orlando lies second from bottom in the table, ahead only of Sky Blue FC, who has played two fewer games.
Marc Skinner’s team, however, arrives into the game on the back of a 4-3 win against Washington Spirit in its last outing. Brazil star Marta scored twice, while Chioma Ubogagu and Rachel Hill added one each as the Pride secured its second win of the season.
With three goals each so far in this campaign, Marta and Ubogagu are key to Orlando’s offense.
According to Oddsportal, the Thorns are a 27/50 (-185 in moneyline terms) favorite, while the draw is at 29/10 and Pride is a 106/25 outsider.