Portland Thorns FC (3-0-1, 10pts) v. Chicago Red Stars (0-2-2, 2pts)
Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 5:00PM CDT (3:00PM PDT)
Benedictine University Sports Complex, Lisle, IL
Watch the Match Here!
Twitter – @ThornsFC @ChicagoRedStars

The Portland Thorns will be looking to conclude their 3-match road trip where it started, taking on the Chicago Red Stars for the second time in 3 weekends. The Thorns come in after defeating the Washington Spirit 2-1 on goals by forward Alex Morgan and midfielder Nikki Washington.The Red Stars will be looking to build on momentum gathered from a late-match comeback in their last match Wednesday against Sky Blue FC, which saw midfielder Alyssa Mautz score an extra-time goal to steal a point.

In their first meeting of the season, the Red Stars were able to hold off the Thorns attack for the first 70 minutes, when forward Danielle Foxhoven was in the right place at the right time, knocking in the ball off a block by Red Stars goalkeeper Erin McLeod.  11 minutes later,Foxhoven, Morgan, and Sinclair created a perfect passing combination, slipping the defense and allowing Sinclair easily put past the keeper.  While the Red Stars pushed late and had some good scoring opportunities, they were not able to break through.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns defeated the Washington Spirit last week in a controversial match that saw both teams awarded and converting a penalty kick and Nikki Washington hitting a beautiful curling ball over the outstretched hand of Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.  Continuing with a common theme, the Thorns came out and attacked early and often, while having to whether a late surge of attacks by the Spirit.

The Thorns have some questions coming into this match.  Stating left back Nikki Marshall was injured midway through the match against the Spirit, and goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc has looked slightly hobbled since near the end of the match against Chicago on April 27.  While Marshall indicated on Twitter that she is fine, neither player appeared on the official injury report.  The other main question comes over how head coach Cindy Parlow Cone manages the team with three matches this week, as the Thorns will host Sky Blue FC on Thursday and the Washington Spirit next Sunday.  With three matches in a week and Chicago appearing to be the weakest at this point, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some lineup changes to give some players a break, especially on the attacking side of the ball, where Meleana Shim made a start last week,Foxhoven has appeared in every match as a reserve as has utility player Courtney Wetzel,midfielder Angie Kerr has both started and appeared as a reserve, and midfielder Elizabeth Guess has made an appearance in reserve.

Regardless of who ends up playing in this match, the Thorns will look to attack early and often, while hoping to break through early.  With the Red Stars having played on Wednesday, the Thorns will look to wear them down early on defense and controlling the middle of the pitch.  If the Thorns are able to break through early, look for their defense to once again have to step up late in the match as the Red Stars make a late push, as they did in the first match.

What do the Red Stars need to do?

For the first 70 minutes of their first meeting, the Red Stars game plan worked well.  They were able to hold off leagues most potent attack.  Once the Thorns broke through, the Red Stars went on the offensive, making offensive for defensive substitutions and throwing a late-game barrage at the Thorns.  While the Thorns were the ones who broke through again, the Red Stars had several solid scoring chances.

The Red Stars come in off a mainly uneventful match against Sky Blue FC, which saw no goals for the first 87 minutes, before Sky Blue’s Sophie Schmidt scored, quickly followed by an equalizer from Mautz in extra-time.  While much of the match was spent in the middle of the pitch, the Red Stars have to be hoping to build off the momentum coming off this tie, their first point since their first match of the season.

The Red Stars have had mixed results this season, having been in most of their matches, but not getting the results they wanted, including a 4-1 shellacking at the hands of Syndey Leroux and the Boston Breakers.  Stealing a point from Sky Blue was an important step for this team though, as it shows they can hang with one of the top teams in the league.  Their biggest problem though,has been finding any kind of offense.  None of their goals have come from players listed as forwards, with midfielders Zakiya Bywaters and Lori Chalupny also scoring so far this season. Chalupny is arguably the Red Stars most dangerous player, but you need your forwards leading the attack, and that just hasn’t happened yet, even with legendary Mexican goal-scorer Maribel Dominquez making three appearances and one start thus far.

As with their last match against the Thorns, the Red Stars will have to look to absorb the attack and counter with their own.  Key for the Red Stars will be disrupting the Portland midfield, which is still finding itself, with the attack and defense have solidified their roles and style of play.  If the Red Stars are able to disrupt the midfield and sneak past a Thorns defense that likes to play a high line, they should have solid scoring chances.  If the Red Stars want have a good chance against the high-flying Thorns, they will need more than just a late-game attacking barrage in they want points from this match.

Projected Lineups

The Thorns have been incredibly successful with essentially the same lineup for the past few matches, but what remains to be seen is coach Cone will do with three matches in a week.  That being said, assume that we will see the same 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid that we’ve become accustomed to.

The Red Stars are still looking to find a lineup that will truly work for them, but it will probably continue to be in flux until the arrival of German internationals Sonja Fuss and Inka Grings and the eventual return of US internationals defender Amy LePeilbet and midfielder Shannon Boxx.  In the first match against the Thorns, Boxx lined up next to defensive midfielder Leslie Osborne.  With Boxx injured, Jacqueline Santacaterina is likely to line up next to her to try and break up the Portland attack, along with the usual back four and an attack led by Chalupny and forward Ella Masar.

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What to Expect

In their first match up of the season, the Thorns were able to capitalize on their speed and ball movement to spread the Red Stars defense and eventually score.  The Thorns will likely use the same strategy Sunday, and with the Red Stars likely committing more players to defense to start the match.  If the Thorns are able to push early and often at the Red Stars, they will likely have success.

The Red Stars found relative success in their last match by keeping the ball in the middle of the field and disrupting any kind of flow to the game.  While this was effective against a Sky Blue side that rested forward Kelley O’Hara for the first half, the Thorns look to come out early and control the match.

Ultimately, this match will come down to offense vs. defense, where the Thorns have the clear advantage, with 5 players scoring, led by Morgan and Sinclair with 2 goals and an assist each.  The Red Stars have a solid defense and one of the best goalkeepers in the world in McLeod, but committing 6 players to defense will not open up their attack, so they will have to take the risk of spreading the field and counterattacking.

Keys to the Match

Thorns-

  1. Attack early and often
  2. Spread the ball around
  3. Play your game

Red Stars-

  1. Control and disrupt the midfield
  2. Counterattack the Thorns high defensive line
  3. Integrate forwards into the attack

Score Predictions: The Red Stars found a game plan that mostly worked for then two weeks ago and again Wednesday, which was reliant on disrupting the play of the midfield.  While it is not pretty, it is usually effective in steal a point from the opponent.  The problem with trying to play this style is that it can be easily turned against you, as the Thorns did in the first meeting and will likely do again.  The Thorns are simply too good to be contained, especially in the attack, but the Red Stars defense was nearly up to the task.  Coming off a few days’ rest and without Boxx, it’shard to like the Red Stars chances, even if there is some shuffling in the lineup from either side.  I see the Thorns running their winnings streak to 5, with LeBlanc getting another clean sheet, 2-0.