Portland Thorns (8-2-1, 25pts) v. Sky Blue FC (8-2-1, 25pts)
Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 7:00pm EDT (4:00pm PDT)
Yurcak Field, Piscataway, New Jersey
Watch the Match Here!
Twitter – @ThornsFC @SkyBlueFC

The Portland Thorns head to Piscataway, New Jersey to face Sky Blue FC in a match up featuring the NWSL top squads, each with identical 8-2-1 records, this Saturday and Yurcak Field.

This is the second of three meetings between these squads.  Sky Blue handed the Thorns their first loss of the season on May 16, as midfielder Taylor Lytle hit a perfectly placed shot from distance in the 80th minute to break the nil-nil deadlock.

National Team Player Status

The biggest question for either side will be the availability of the national team players for either side.

The Thorns’ Christine Sinclair and Sky Blue’s Sophie Schmidt both appeared for Canada in their 1-nil loss to Germany in Paderborn, Germany on Wednesday.

Appearing for the United States in their 5-nil victory over Korea Republic on Thursday was the Thorns Alex Morgan, who played 49 minutes, Sky Blue’s Christine Rampone played 48 minutes and Kelley O’Hara played 38 minutes.  Rachel Buehler (Thorns) did not dress and Jill Loyden (Sky Blue) dressed, but did not appear.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The status of the Sinclair and Morgan will be a big question mark for Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone heading into the match.  In their last match against Seattle Reign FC on Sunday, the Thorns got second half goals from forward Dani Foxhoven (48’) and midfielder Mana Shim (67’).  Without their star forwards, the Thorns looked lost in the first half, playing a 4-5-1, but did not have a true forward on the pitch until the substitution of Foxhoven at the half.

The Thorns added another potent attacking option this week when they signed forward Tiffany Weimer, but her availability has not yet been confirmed.  If she is available and either Morgan or Sinclair is not, it is likely that she would get the start as a lone striker at the top of a 4-5-1, with an extra defensive midfielder to handle the speedy attackers of Sky Blue.

The best scenario for the Thorns is to be able to play both Morgan and Sinclair for most of the match, and with a week off between matches, it is highly likely both will make at least an appearance for the Thorns and possibly even start.

The other big question for the Thorns is who will step up to replace the injured Becky Edwards, who was lost to an ACL Tear prior to the last Sunday’s match.  Midfielders Allie Long and Courtney Wetzel both made starts at defensive midfielder, but they will be facing a much more potent attack this weekend and there is a good possibility that coach Cone will go with two defensive midfielders.

Regardless of who starts, they will have a tough task cracking a solid Sky Blue defense and getting the ball past goalkeeper Brittany Cameron, who is tied for the league lead in clean sheets, with Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, who each have 5.  The Thorns have only been shut out twice this season, but one of those was the first meeting with Sky Blue.  The Thorns will need their offense to come alive in this match if they want to bring home more than a point.

What does Sky Blue need to do?

Sky Blue set the blueprint for teams to beat the Thorns, using disruptive play from both their defense and midfield to frustrate them and kill off any attack.  This was led by Rampone, who was everywhere to neutralize the Thorns attack, while Cameron stymied any ball that broke through.

The match-winner scored by Lytle propelled her in head coach Jim Gabarra’s lineup, after scoring a goal in their next match against Seattle and then again in a start against Boston.  While she hasn’t scored since, she appears to have cemented her place in the Starting XI.

Just like the Thorns, Sky Blue has questions regarding the availability of their national team players, with Rampone and O’Hara coming off a single day of rest and Schmidt comes off two days’ rest, as well as jetlag after flying back from Germany.  While they are available, how much they will be able to play is a major question, as does the added factor of having a midweek match against FC Kansas City.

Even without their national team players, Sky Blue has a potent attack.  Defender Lisa De Vanna and Schmidt have scored 5 goals, while forward Danesha Adams and Lytle have added 3.  Their three forward front proved to be hard for the Thorns to handle, even though they didn’t score, and it is likely they will look to spread the defense again use their midfielders to both attack and frustrate the Thorns.

Projected Lineups

With the short layover for the national teamers, it hard to predict the lineups for this match, though both Cone and Gabarra are going to put out the best possible lineup, so let’s assume they are going with their full complement of national team players.  The Thorns will lineup with the 4-5-1/4-2-3-1 we saw last match as they adapt to life without Edwards, while Sky Blue comes out in their usual 4-3-3.

sbfc-thorns-june-22-lineup

Keys to the Match-

Thorns-

  1. Challenge Cameron early and often
  2. Control the match
  3. Dispossess the attack

Sky Blue-

  1. Disrupt play on both offense and defense
  2. Push the Thorns defense
  3. Keep the ball out of your defensive third

Score Predictions

These are probably the two most evenly-matched teams in the league, as proven by their near scoreless draw produced in their first meeting.  It’s hard to not expect more of the same in this second meeting, though the status of the national team players will be a major factor.  Assuming everyone is available, I see the end result going as either a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.