Dash gets another measuring stick against one of the best teams in the NWSL

There are more than three months until the Dash knows if he will make his first playoff appearance. But right now, they’re discovering that if they get there, they’ll have a legitimate chance to lift the NWSL Trophy.

The Dash (5-4-1, 16 points) will host the first Portland Thorns (6-3-1, 19 points) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at BBVA Stadium. This will be the third time in four games that Houston has faced one of the best in the league, and he has won each of the first two meetings against Orlando Pride and North Carolina Courage.

With five wins in their last seven games, the Dash are one of the hottest teams in the NWSL. They had to be in great shape to keep up with their opponents.

“I feel like the games have been very difficult,” said Dash coach James Clarkson. “As you’ve seen this season, the league is very competitive. From top to bottom, every game is tough. We have the impression of having faced the real suitors. We’re going to have to perform and have our ‘A’ game to give ourselves a chance to succeed (Saturday).

Even without their top players, who are in Tokyo for the Olympics, the Thorns have proven to be one of the teams to beat. Players like Sophia Smith, Simone Charley, Rocky Rodriguez and Megan Klingenberg are big contributors even when Portland is at full power.

Along with having one of the strongest traditions in the NWSL, the Thorns are 2-0-1 in their last three games after beating Orlando in their last game.

“They have a real pace up front,” said Clarkson. “They have good players who can run behind, can cause problems. They are very confident. They have good results. I’m sure they’re where they think they should be. I think they will come fully expecting to return to us.

Portland has made the playoffs in six of the past seven years in which a regular season has been contested and has won the NWSL Trophy twice. The Thorns have what the Dash want in this regard, but the Dash are starting to feel they deserve a higher level of respect than they have historically been accorded.

They won the NWSL Challenge Cup last year and have had a strong regular season so far this year, especially lately.

The ongoing challenge, however, is balancing temperaments from week to week. Clarkson has had to deal with this on both sides over the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago, Dash led Chicago 1-0 before scoring two own goals in six minutes and losing 2-1. It had the potential to be demoralizing, but Clarkson said the players have shown great resilience in the wake of the disappointment.

Last weekend’s 2-1 road win over North Carolina was a breakthrough in that Dash had never achieved even a draw in five previous regular-season games in North Carolina. In turn, Clarkson had to make sure that the players didn’t get too high in the days following this one.

If Houston takes the field against Portland on Saturday with too much confidence, it could be a long night.

“It’s important that we continue to focus on the process,” Clarkson said. “While we want to celebrate these victories, at the end of the day, there are only three points left. It is important to achieve the goal we want to qualify for the playoffs. It is the same if we get beaten. It’s (by the way) not to get too low. He doesn’t focus on the past. It’s about focusing on the next game and on our strengths and weaknesses and how we can build on them.

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