FC Kansas City vs Portland Thorns FC Match Preview


FC Kansas City (0-0-0) v. Portland Thorns FC (0-0-0)
Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 7:35 CDT/5:35 PDT
Shawnee Mission District Stadium, Overland Park, MS
Watch the Game Here!
Match Thread
Twitter – @ThornsFC @FCKansasCity

There is much anticipation as FC Kansas City plays host to the Portland Thorns in the first match of the NWSL season. The Thorns, considered by many to be the clear winner of the national team allocation process, comes in with a potent attack led by international stars Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair, will come up against what is likely the best defense in the league, anchored by a star-studded back line of Becky Sauerbrunn and Lauren Sesselmann, backstopped by goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns come in with high expectations. With their potent attack and a solid midfield, look for the Thorns to try and take command of the game early and maintain possession as they did in their 2-1 preseason victory over the University of Portland. If they can maintain possession and get their attack going early and often, they should be able to counter KC’s tough defense, as Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair are likely to be an unstoppable force in this league when they are clicking.

For the Thorns, the key to this game though is likely to be the midfield. Without solid linking through the midfield, the attack will have a much harder time getting going. By all accounts through, the Thorns midfield is much stronger than expected, which will be critical in all phases of the game, especially with questions lingering about the defence. Look for Angie Kerr to slot in behind Morgan and Sinclair, with Nikki Washington and Allie Long on the flanks, and Becky Edwards to play a lock down defensive midfield role, trying to break down the Kansas City attack. Most importantly though, it will be important for this group to come together as group quickly and play fluidly off each other.

With as strong as both the attack and midfield play is, the back line comes with most uncertainty. While the UP exhibition did not give us much of a true look at this team, with Rachel Buehler and Karina LeBlanc away on international duty, it did show us that this team needs time to work together and become a cohesive unit. With the national teamers missing a significant chuck of preseason camp, if there is a weakness to be exploited, this is where it is. While LeBlanc is likely to be a brick wall in goal and Buehler is her usual disruptive self, it is still unknown how the rest of the defence will truly look and it will take time for everyone to be on the same page.

What does Kansas City need to do?

Kansas City is likely facing a team that will be their stiffest challenge coming into the season. With the Thorns looking to attack, it will be vital for them to counter this with solid defensive play and a counterattack contingent in the play of speedster forward Renae Cuellar, who led the team in scoring during the preseason. While the Thorns come in with the star power, the midfield for KC is full of national teamers, with Canadian Desiree Scott joined by American Kristie Mewis and possibly by Lauren Cheney, who has been seeing more time at forward but is just as capable as an attacking midfielder. The centerback pairing of Lauren Sesselmann and Becky Sauerbrunn is probably the strongest in the league, and with current USWNT #1 goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart calling the shots on the goal line, look for KC to try and break down the Portland attack.

Coaching Style

For both these coaches, it is their first regular season match at the professional level of women’s soccer. While Cindy Parlow Cone comes to the Thorns with years of experience as an assistant coach with the University of North Carolina, it is unknown exactly how she will approach the game on match day. She has leaked little information throughout the preseason and with training closed all week to the media, we will have to take a wait and see approach. KC coach Vlatko Andonovski is a slightly more known quantity, preferring an attacking style of play, but has not coached in the earlier iterations of professional women’s soccer.

For both these coaches these early season games will not only be about the game in hand but also about figuring out who your team really is and how to best work with these players. Substitution patterns, style of coaching, and tactical adjustments in the run of play will be an important factor, as these teams are still meshing and finding their identity, and they will be looking to the leadership of their coaches to provide it.

Projected Lineups

Since the national teamers did not make many appearances, if any for either team, it is hard to say who exactly will be in the lineup at the opening whistle. I think it will look something like this…

Thorns FC (4-4-2):
LeBlanc (GK)
Avant, Buehler, O’Neil, Dougherty (DEF)
Long, Edwards, Kerr, Washington (MID)
Sinclair, Morgan (FWD)

*FC Kansas City (4-2-3-1):
Barnhart (GK)
Robinson, Sesselmann, Sauerbrunn, Mewis (DEF)
Scott, Buczkowski (DEF MID)
Loyd, Farrley, Cheney (ATT MID)
Cuellar (FWD)

*NOTE – I am using Chris Henderson’s projection lineup posted on for Kansas City as I have been unable to observe them in action.

What to Expect

Both these teams will come in looking to steal the first goal and set the tone of the game. For Portland, this will come in the form of their potent offense and solid midfield, where their will try to control the flow and tempo of the game. While Kansas City will have to weather much of this attack, if they can take advantage of Cuellar’s speed on the counterattack and throw Portland off their game.

There will be no clean sheets in this match. As good as LeBlanc and Barnhart are individually, this is a team game and defenses take time to gel. With key players missing from both sides throughout the preseason, this game will be determined by the individual skill-sets of the players of the field, especially in the attack, where Portland has the clear edge.

Keys to the Game

Thorns- 1.) Attack early and often, 2.) Maintain possession, 3.) Control the midfield
KC- 1.) Disrupt Portland’s flow, 2.) Play the counterattack, 3.) Absorb the attack and limit scoring chances.

Score Prediction

3-2 Portland, with goals coming from Sinclair and a Morgan brace for Portland, and Cuellar and Cheney for Kansas City.

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