Chicago Red Stars (0-4-2, 2pts) v. Portland Thorns (6-1-1, 19pts)
Saturday June 1, 2013 at 2:00pm PDT (4:00pm CDT)
JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Oregon
Watch the Match Here!
Twitter – @ThornsFC @ChicagoRedStars

The Portland Thorns kick of a three match homestand by hosting the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, June 1 at JELD-WEN Field in Portland Oregon in the third meeting of the season between these two clubs.

The Thorns come in off a controversial 1-0 Cascadia victory over the Seattle Reign, where the Thorns were awarded an 84th minute penalty kick on an apparent foul in the 18 yard box, which was later rebuked by the Professional Referees Organization (read the story here).  Forward Christine Sinclair easily converted the penalty past debutant Seattle Reign goalkeeper Hope Solo.

For the season series, the Thorns defeated the Red Stars by identical 2-0 score lines at Benedictine University Sports Complex in Lisle, Illinois.  In their first meeting, the Thorns won on goals by forwards Danielle Foxhoven in the 70th minute and Christine Sinclair in the 81st minute on April 27.  In the return trip May 12, the Thorns got an early goal by forward Alex Morgan in the 3rd minute and midfielder Allie Long added a second in the 35th minute.

What do the Thorns need to do?

This match marks the first time this season that the Thorns will be playing without their allocated national team members, as goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc and forward Christine Sinclair were called up by Canada and defender Rachel Buehler and forward Alex Morgan representing the United States.  The United States and Canada meet in a friendly June 2 at BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario.

With the absences of four starters, it will be integral that their replacements find their rhythm early.  Of the players who have appeared off the bench, Foxhoven and midfielder Angie Kerr have seen the most time, with Kerr making 3 starts in 6 appearances, while Foxhoven has appeared in 7.  Making her first start of the season will be reserve goalkeeper Adelaide Gay, who was the starting goalkeeper for the University of North Carolina in their 2012 NCAA National Championship, where she made 22 starts and recorded 5 shutouts and had a 0.62 goals against average, only allowing 11 goals for the season.  This will be Gay’s first appearance on the season.

The position that will probably give Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone the most to think about is centerback, where Buehler and Williamson have played every minutes of the season, while Jazmyne Avant and Emilee O’Neil have made an appearance on the backline as reserves.  O’Neil got the start in the Thorns lone preseason game against the University of Portland, but she has been listed on the injury report since appearing for 28 minutes in Week 1 against FC Kansas City.  The international call ups should not have been surprise to anyone in the league, so Parlow Cone has likely been working on a contingency plan all season.

With nearly every player likely to start having already made appearances with the first team, the Thorns will have a feel for how each other plays.  The Thorns defense has become one of the stingiest in the league because of its fluidity and the partnership of Buehler and Williamson in the center and LeBlanc stopping nearly every shot she’s seen.

Up top, Foxhoven has more than proven herself as an attacking player.  While she only has record one goal, she figured into the penalty called that led to the Thorns first goal of the season at FC Kansas City and made the key pass that led to Sinclair’s goal in the first match against Chicago, while Kerr has been a solid attacking presence and midfielder Mana Shim has used her speed to irritate opposing defenses.  Kerr and Shim will likely play at both the second forward and attacking midfield spots, switching as needed during the match.

While the Thorns have had less than stellar appearances and opponents have appeared to figure out much of their attacking scheme, with four new starters coming in, the plot changes a bit,   It is hard to gameplan for the unknown, but as long as the linking play is there to spring the attack, the Thorns should be fine against a Red Stars team missing three defensive starters.

What do the Red Stars need to do?

The season has not gone to plans in Chicago.  With only 2 points out of a possible 18, the Red Stars have struggled to find much of an attack outside of Chalupny, who leads the team with 2 goals and has recorded 9 shots on goal from 16 shots, with midfielders Zakiya Bywaters and Alyssa Mautz each recording 1 goal from 6 attempts.

The Red Stars got some major reinforcements from Germany, as defender Sonja Fuss and Inka Grings arrived last week upon completing the Swiss season with FC Zurich.  Grings will give the Red Stars a major boost on offense, where she scored an astonishing 353 goals in 271 appearances for FCR Duisburg of the German Bundesliga as well as 64 international goals in 96 caps for Germany.  Fuss brings a veteran presence to an underperforming Red Stars backline that has allowed an average of 2 goals per match through 6 matches.

The addition of Fuss and Grings, as well as the likely return of central midfielder Leslie Osborne and further integration of forward Maribel Dominguez into the attack, things are looking up in Chicago.  With legendary attackers Dominguez and Grings up top and Chalupny not having to shoulder as much of the offensive load, the only missing piece is probably service from the midfield.

The bigger questions for the Red Stars will come on defense, where starters Carmelina Moscato, Rachel Quon, and goalkeeper Erin McLeod were all called into national team duty for Canada.  Unlike the Thorns though, the Red Stars reserve defenders have already seen time on the pitch, while goalkeeper Taylor Vancil made a superb start in goal last week for the injured McLeod.

If the Red Stars are able to find some continuity in their attack and take advantage of the opportunities given, this is definitely a match that is there for the taking.  With the Thorns missing key players on both offense and defense, the Red Stars have a chance to hand the Thorns a second loss, but it will not be easy in the daunting environment of JELD-WEN Field.

Projected Lineups

Both teams will be putting out new lineup combinations with so many usual starters out.  For the Thorns, the midfield will likely stay the same, while Foxhoven moves in up top, but she will be the only true striker with Kerr and Mana Shim joining her in the attack.  Gay will make her debut in goal, while O’Neil, if healthy, will get the nod in place of Buehler.  The Thorns will set up in their usual 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid.  If the Thorns move to a true 4-3-3, look for Foxhoven to move center, with Kerr and Shim on the flanks.

For the Red Stars, the biggest news is the possible debuts of Fuss and Grings and the return of Osborne from injury.  Whether any of them start is will not be known until just before kickoff, but it’s safe to assume that Red Stars head coach Rory Dames will want to put his best lineup out there against a significantly weakened Thorns side.  The Red Stars have used a few different formations this season, with a domineering strikeforce of Dominquez and Grings available, a 4-4-2 is likely.

crs-por-june-1-2013-lineup

What to Expect

With both teams missing key players, this match is hard to predict.  Both sides will need to integrate quickly as they hit the pitch or the opponent could take advantage early.  In the first two meetings, the Thorns have taken control of the match early, and if they are able to do that again, it could be another long afternoon for the Red Stars in Portland.

Of all the players being introduced, the play of both Gay and Vancil in goal will need to be stellar, as will their defenses.  The resumes of Dominguez and Grings speak for themselves, while Foxhoven has been referred to more than once by her teammates as a “super-sub.” While the players may be appearing in new roles for their respective squads, they are by no means a significant drop-off individually, though whether everything collectively comes together remains to be seen.

Without superstars Morgan and Sinclair, the Thorns will need to be more creative with their ball movement into the attack and test Vancil as much as possible.  For the Red Stars, the key is to pressure the Thorns defense with their newfound attacking options and control the midfield, while standing tall on defense.

Keys to the Match

Thorns:

  1. Find your rhythm
  2. Be opportunistic
  3. Link up the attack

Red Stars:

  1. Control and disrupt the midfield
  2. Link up Dominguez and Grings
  3. Stand tall on defense

Score Predictions

The Red Stars have been slowly tightening up their defense and looked better in recent matches, with the opponents just taking the few opportunities given.  While the attack hasn’t looked great, the introduction of a world class player in Grings will surely be a boost and she should be able to take advantage of the Thorns young goalkeeper.  While the Thorns have suffered from a lack of creativity lately, the introduction of Foxhoven as a starter may be the spark they need, and she can push a Red Stars defense that is missing three of its mainstays.  While the match could be a toss-up, the Thorns have one of the strongest defenses in the league and I feel this will be the difference-maker as the Thorns win 2-1.