Rivals united: Carpenter and Raso link up for Portland's title quest

Two of the Westfield Matildas' brightest young stars will form a crucial part of Portland Thorns' challenge for 2019 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) silverware.

Canberra United's Ellie Carpenter (18) and Brisbane Roar's Hayley Raso (24) have both impressed Westfield W-League audiences during their careers on Australian shores.

Now, they could be set to form a lethal fullback-winger combination for the Thorns.

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Westfield W-League foes, NWSL friends

Names: Ellie Carpenter and Hayley Raso

Westfield W-League clubs: Canberra United and Brisbane Roar

NWSL club: Portland Thorns

Did these two face-off regularly during the Westfield W-League season?

Not really. With Raso missing 11 rounds of the campaign recovering from the broken back she sustained with the Thorns in August 2018, the Brisbane winger and Canberra defender Carpenter only met once, in Round 13.

While they did not directly line-up against each on the team sheet, you can bet that, although predominately right-sided, the roving Raso would have had Carpenter chasing her down a few times in her role as right wing-back.

Raso
Raso played four games for Roar in the Westfield W-League 2018/19 season

How did they go?

Raso's highly anticipated Round 12 return a week earlier fizzled out with a 3-1 defeat to Sydney FC, but it was a much better time for the Brisbane attacker in Round 13's clash with Canberra.

The 24-year-old opened the scoring, marking a triumphant return from that career-threatening back injury with an intelligent run and finish, as Roar eased past Canberra 4-1.

Hayley Raso scored on her first start of the Westfield W-League season

What was the campaign like for Raso’s Roar overall?

Brisbane performed very well over the course of a tight Westfield W-League season which saw the race for the top four go down to the wire.

Although relinquishing their Premiership crown to Melbourne Victory, Mel Andreatta's side still finished second and earned themselves a home semi-final against Sydney FC. 

Raso is lining up for her fourth season at Portland Thorns

Ah yes, the semi-final...

It did not pan out the way Raso and the Roar would have liked, to be fair.

The Roar were unable to avoid three defeats in a row to the Sky Blues, going down 2-1 courtesy of goals from Sofia Huerta and Caitlin Foord – who plies her trade alongside Raso and Carpenter at Portland.


How did Carpenter's Canberra fare?

Canberra had to endure another season without finals football as Heather Garriock's side were unable to recover from a post-Christmas slump that heralded just one win in five.

On a personal level, 2018/19 was another success for Westfield Matildas starlet Carpenter, who made 11 appearances, was a constant source of attacking threat and registered three goals.

Carpenter opened her account in Canberra's 2-0 win over Melbourne City in Round 1

She's still a teenager. Is this Carpenter's first season overseas?

Remarkably not. 

It is hard to believe that the Cowra-born defender is still only 18, given the high standard of her performances on the Westfield W-League, NWSL and international stages since her professional debut back in 2015.

Last season, Carpenter was snared by Portland and showed she was more than capable of mixing it with the best in one of the toughest leagues in the world.

She made 19 appearances and became the youngest goalscorer in the competition's history with a winner against Washington Spirit in May, just 22 days after her 18th birthday.

Ellie Carpenter became the youngest goalscorer in NWSL history with this strike in May 2018

What about Raso's experience in the USA's top flight?

Raso has racked up a bunch of NWSL experience during her time in America. She made her debut with Washington Spirit in 2015, but was waived by the club in April 2016.

However, as the 24-year-old once revealed to www.matildas.com.au, getting that contract torn up proved to be a catalyst for big things.

She helped the side clinch the 2016 NWSL Shield before going one better in a breakout 2017 season, scoring six goals and tallying three assists on the way to Portland's Championship win.

Her performances saw Portland's official supporters club, the Rose City Riveters, name her Most Valuable Player of 2017.

In 2018, Raso made a strong start with two goals in 12 appearances before her season was cruelly ended after sustaining a potential career-ending back break in an accidental challenge with Washington Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe.

In a display of determination and fighting-spirit, she would make her triumphant return from injury 146 days later in the Westfield W-League.

Hayley Raso posted a photo of her recovery in December 2018

How are Portland tracking?

Portland have enjoyed a successful last few years following their 2016 NWSL Shield win, 2017's Championship and 2018's second-place finish.

They were not able to stop the incredible momentum of North Carolina Courage in last season's playoffs, as the Courage steam-rollered their way to a 3-0 win over Portland to crown a memorable Shield and Championship double. 

It was back in 2015 that the Thorns last failed to make the playoffs – the only time in their history they have missed out – and with the likes of Sydney FC star Caitlin Foord, prolific Canadian forward Christine Sinclair and American midfield dynamos Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan all back in the fold, there is a strong chance that Carpenter and Raso are destined for a strong finish this time around. 

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