Portland Thorns (11-6-5, 38pts) v. FC Kansas City (11-6-5, 38pts)
Saturday August 24, 2013 at 1:00pm CDT (11:00am PDT)
Verizon Wireless Field, Overland Park, Kansas
TV – Fox Sports 2
Watch Online via FoxSoccer2Go (Subscription Required)
Twitter – @ThornsFC @BluesGameday
Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath and the Portland Thorns travel to Overland Park, Kansas to take on Lauren Holiday, Erika Tymrak, and the FC Kansas City Blues in the NWSL Semifinals. The match is scheduled to kick off at 1:00pm CDT (11:00am PDT) from Verizon Wireless field and will be aired live on Fox Sports 2 and streamed for free on FoxSoccer2Go.com. The winner of this match takes on the winner of Sky Blue FC at Western New York for the inaugural NWSL crown.
The Thorns and Blues met four times in the regular season, with FC Kansas City winning the overall series (2-1-1). In the inaugural NWSL match, the Thorns and Blues played to a 1-1 draw that saw Renae Cuellar shock the Thorns with a third minute goal, while the Thorns responded with a Sinclair penalty kick. Their second meeting of the season went to the Thorns, a 4-3 thriller, while the third meeting was complete domination by the Blues, in a 2-0 victory. The final meeting, on August 4, went 3-2 to the Blues as they were able to hold off a late push by the Thorns.
What do the Thorns need to do?
The status of Alex Morgan for this match has yet to be determined, though word from the Thorns is that she is day-to-day and will travel with the team. Morgan’s availability for this match greatly changes the complexion for the Thorns, as they play differently in the attack without her. When Morgan is available, they look to use her speed to spread the defense, but rely on a long-ball approach that generally has mixed results, especially on a quick and narrow surface such as the one at Verizon Wireless Field. Without Morgan, the Thorns rely on the power of Sinclair, who can single-handedly take over a match when needed and will her team to victory, as was the case in their match Saturday against Seattle, even with their playoff positioning all but decided before the match kicked off.
In their last match, the Thorns employed a more direct approach in the attack, which they will need to replicate and more against the Blues. Even if Morgan is available and plays, the Thorns should stick to their recent approached, which relied less on the long-ball and more in the individual skills of each player on the pitch, especially with such a formidable defense in front of them and less than stellar field conditions. While spreading the field on the attack and using the long-ball on the counter many appear to be a way to beat a strong high-line defense, they results just simply haven’t been there for the Thorns.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Thorns are more than capable of holding off the Blues attack when everyone is marking and in position. The danger for the Thorns will be the attack out of the midfield, especially from Golden Boot Winner Holiday and Rookie of the Year Tymrak, who play off each other in the attack, combining for 17 goals and 11 assists between them. The Thorns will need to have a constant mark on both players on their half of the pitch, and everyone will need to be two-way players in this match with so many dangerous options.
What do the Blues need to do?
From the start of the season, it was clear that Vlatko Andonovski had put together a stellar side, with Holiday, Tymrak, Defender of the Year Becky Sauerbrunn, and Goalkeeper of the Year Nicole Barnhart proving this by wining individual awards, and Holiday likely having the league Most Valuable Player wrapped up as well. With all that though, the Blues squandered their change for the regular season crown in their last meeting against the Red Stars, as Jen Hoy gave FC Kansas City a disappointing end to the regular season.
The Blues direct attacking style have served them well this season, especially against the Thorns, who they have scored 9 of their 34 regular season goals, led by 5 goals from Holiday. The Blues have scored in all manners, but their numbers at home (3 goals) vs. (6 goals) road against the Thorns are vastly different, likely due to the fast, narrow pitch that forces them to play more compactly, this isn’t necessarily a problem for them though, as they are more than capable of scoring on the Thorns and anyone else in the league.
At home against the Thorns, the Blues have been stellar defensively, with their lone goal allowed coming on a penalty kick. Much of this can be attributed to stellar defensive pairing both on the backline (Sauerbrunn and Lauren Sesselmann) and central defensive midfielder (Jen Buczkowski and Desiree Scott) that has forced the Thorns to revert to long-ball and attacking from the flanks, forcing lower quality chances. While this hasn’t been as effective on the wider pitch in Portland, the narrower, faster pitch works greatly to their advantage. The Thorns may have a bit of a different look though, depending on Morgan’s availability, as well as a myriad of other attacking options, so the Blues can expect of be pushed throughout the match.
While much mystery remains as to the status of Morgan, even if she is available, fitness will still be an issue, as she has not seen the field in over two weeks, so she would likely be a sub, with Danielle Foxhoven getting the start up top with Sinclair in a 4-4-2 diamond.
The Blues are not without injury issues themselves. They lost starting right back Leigh-Ann Robinson 10 minutes into their match with Chicago and her status is unknown as of this writing, with both Courtney Jones and then Sinead Farrelly seeing time in her position. Given that the Blues gave up their late goals after the second substitution, it seems lively that Farrelly will get the nod if Robinson is unable to go, with everyone else remaining in the same positions in their 4-5-1 formation.
Keys to the Match
- Adjust to the field and weather conditions quickly
- Stick with the direct attack
- Contain Holiday and Tymrak
- Spread out the attack
- Force the Thorns into the long-ball
- Pace yourselves
I typically look at recent trends and head to head performances when writing this section, but it is a bit more difficult with these two sides since they have face each other in various forms throughout the season. None of that really matters now, as both teams will throw everything they have at each other to reach the final. Both teams should be riding high, as there is a distinct chance that this match will go to extra time and be settled in a shootout, which is where I see this match going.