Sunday 14, 2013 at 2:00pm PDT (5:00pm EDT)
JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Oregon

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United States internationals clash as Alex Morgan and the Portland Thorns welcome Abby Wambach and the Western New York Flash to JELD-WEN Field on Sunday, for a match slated to kick off at 2:00pm PDT (5:00pm EDT). This is the first of two meeting between these powerful NWSL sides.

What do the Thorns need to do?

Two stories have surrounded the Thorns the past few weeks: the Thorns offensive struggles and the impending arrival of United States international midfielder Tobin Heath. After missing the first half of the season playing for Paris Saint-Germain in France, Heath finally joined the Thorns on Tuesday. Heath is expected to start for the Thorns Sunday, looking to add the creativity that the Thorns have glaringly lacked this season, which  reached a head as they have been shutout for 293 minutes, often looking lost on the pitch and letting the opponent dictate the gameplay.

Heath’s skill can be a game-changer for the Thorns. Regarded as one of the most creative players in the world, her addition should prove to be that missing linking piece between the defense and forwards that has been sorely lacking since Becky Edwards went down with an ACL injury. Early in the season, Morgan and strike partner Christine Sinclair were able to will their team to victory, but as of late they’ve been forced to play further back to help on the defense. While Heath will not replace Edwards’ defensive prowess, the Thorns should look much more comfortable on offense.

Standing in their way is the ever-dangerous Abby Wambach and the Western New York Flash, who have played much of an up and down season. Starting out slow, the Flash then went on a 9-match unbeaten run, only to drop their two of their past three, while on a two-week road trip. Containing Wambach will be key for the Thorns, and this task will fall to defenders Rachel Buehler and Kat Williamson. While the Thorns were burned twice in their last match by Boston’s speedy Sydney Leroux, Wambach is more of a target-striker who likes the ball served in to her head. The Thorns will need to contain the Flash’s service from the midfield as well as guard against the long shot of Carli Lloyd.

What do the Flash need to do?

The Flash are coming off a disappointing loss that saw them take the lead in the 10th minutes, lose it in the 14th and before drawing level on a 47th minute penalty kick, only to lose the match off an 82nd minute strike against the Seattle Reign. Wambach scored both goals for the Flash, putting her at 9 for the season, only a goal off the league lead.

Playing a tough match Thursday, and on the tail-end of a long road trip will challenge the Flash and head coach Aaran Lines. The attacking formula is simple for the Flash, get the ball to Wambach and let her finish, but they are coming against the top defense in NWSL, and while struggling of late, the Thorns are capable of shutting down any attack.

The formula to beat the Thorns his been well-established: control the midfield, spring the counter attack to challenge the high-line defense, and force poor quality shots and the Thorns will struggle; let the Thorns play their game and they will punish you. The Flash have shown they are a top team in this league, and they will need to overcome fatigue and a tough defense if they want to find themselves on the winning side once again.

Projected Lineups

Heath’s arrival gives the Thorns a major creative piece and their formation may reflect this. Heath will likely slot into the attacking midfielder role, putting Sinclair in her more natural central attacker role, while pushing Morgan a bit further out wide on the left and putting Weimer on the right in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1, with Long and Wetzel in the defensive midfield and outside back Marian Dougherty returning to right back after missing the past few matches due to injury. The Flash play a standard 4-3-3, highlighted by Wambach up top and Lloyd in an attacking midfield role.

por-wny-july-14-lineups

Keys to the Match:

Thorns

  1. Find your shooting boots.
  2. Greatly improved linking play.
  3. Contain Wambach.

Flash

  1. Break up the Thorns attack.
  2. Control the midfield.
  3. Spread the Thorns’ defense and find Wambach

Score Predictions:

This is one of those matches that could either be a standoff or a shootout, depending on who shows up. Both teams have struggled defensively of late, with the Thorns looking particularly lackluster in all phases of the game. Normally, that would give the Flash a clear advantage, but the addition of Heath and the Flash at the end of a long road trip and a tough match a few days ago, this match feels more likely it could be a shootout, with both Morgan and Sinclair finally having the service they need and Wambach continue her dangerous run of form, leading to a 2-2 draw.