It wasn't exactly done with parity in mind. But players all around the National Women's Soccer League understand why speedy U.S. striker Alex Morgan and Canadian powerhouse forward Christine Sinclair were both allocated to Portland Thorns FC. Then again, fans in the most soccer-mad corner of the country don't need much incentive.
"First of all, we need a forward," Washington Spirit defender Ali Krieger said. "I was like, 'Can one of them come to us?' That was honestly my first thought."
Instead, Krieger will try to stop both Morgan and Sinclair when the league-leading Thorns (2-0-1, 7 points) come to town for the biggest match in the Spirit's (0-1-2, 2 points) short history.
With Sinclair, who played college soccer at the University of Portland, and Morgan, the brightest star in the next generation of U.S. players, the Thorns drew 16,479 fans for their home debut at Jeld-Wen Field, sizeable enough to rival nearly any team in Major League Soccer. Ahead of Saturday's clash at Maryland SoccerPlex, a sellout of 4,500 was already in place by Thursday, with the Spirit expecting to cap sales at 5,000.
|Thorns FC at Spirit|
|When » Saturday, 7 p.m.|
|Where » Maryland SoccerPlex|
|TV » youtube.com/nwsl|
"Everybody's expecting us to lose, I think, on paper, right?" Spirit coach Mike Jorden said. "If we tie, it's a pretty good result, but if we win, that's probably one of the better victories of the year in the league so far. We're definitely up for it, but we've got a challenge defensively."
While the team formation process back in January didn't land the Spirit a big-name striker, it did bring 29-year-old veteran midfielder Diana Matheson to Washington. The 5-foot Ontario native has 150 appearances for the Canadian national team to her name and she's instantly turned into the key cog in the Spirit offense. With two goals in the first three games, she's scored as many times as Sinclair and once more than Morgan.
"She's our playmaker," Jorden said. "We try to get her the ball, and she pops up all over the field. She provides a lot of veteran leadership for the younger players."
The deliberate mix of U.S. players with their Canadian counterparts -- with salaries subsidized by their respective national federations -- comes at a time when the rivalry between the nations has been stoked to new levels.
"It's been interesting because I didn't know a lot of the U.S. players before," Matheson said. "These are the first ones I've met. So far I love my teammates here, so it'll be interesting to go back. When you have your Canada and U.S. jerseys, it's a totally different story."
The tension has been diffused by the NWSL, but the teams face off June 2 in their first meeting since last summer's thrilling 4-3 U.S. win in the Olympic semifinals, where Sinclair had a hat trick while Morgan had the game winner.
"You just have to be aware of her," Matheson said of Sinclair. "She makes amazing runs, great on the ball, and she doesn't have a lot of weaknesses."
Krieger was in the U.S. camp when Morgan was called up for the first team in 2010 and has watched her worldly growth since.
"She's so strong, fast, and she can finish on a dime," Krieger said. "You put her in front of the goal, and she'll score. That's what they pay her to do. That's what the big bucks are for, and she does a really great job."