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Thorns begin three match road trip with battle against Red Stars

redstars-thorns-april-27

Chicago Red Stars (0-0-1) v. Portland Thorns FC (1-0-1)
Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 7:00 CDT/5:00 PDT
Benedictine University Sports Complex Stadium, Lisle, IL
Watch Match Here
Twitter – @ThornsFC @ChicagoRedStars

The Portland Thorns will be looking to steal 3 points on the road as they travel to Lisle, Illinois to take on the Chicago Red Stars. The Thorns are coming in off a big victory over the Seattle Reign, in front of a record-breaking crowd, while the Red Stars are coming in after a week off. In their first match of the season, they drew Seattle 1-1 on April 14.

What do the Thorns need to do?

Save for one lapse on concentration that allowed Seattle’s Jessica Fishlock sneak in a goal, the Thorns played a superb match, controlling much of the match and pushing the Reign defense to bunker down and defend against a solid attack. However, they were only able to put up 2 goals on the Reign, though there were several solid scoring opportunities, including a sure goal by forward Alex Morgan that was saved off the line by Seattle’s Kate Deines.

The marked improvement that can be attributed to many factors, but perhaps the most important change made by Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone, was the decision to drop forward Christine Sinclair into more of withdrawn striker/attacking midfielder role, while pushing midfielder Angie Kerr up top with Morgan. This allowed Sinclair to bring the ball up the pitch and distribute, especially to Morgan, earning an assist on her goal in the 52nd minute. Moving Sinclair into the midfield, as well as having a full week with the American and Canadian internationals in training, allowed the Thorns to show the team that many are expecting them to be.

“I think the chemistry both on and off the field with this team is outstanding,” said coach Cone after the Seattle match. “Are we where we want to be in August? No. We’ll get there. We’ll continue to get better. We made some mistakes tonight and we will look at those and we will continue to get better from week to week.”

The players were the first to admit that playing at JELD-WEN Field this past week had a huge impact on their play. Beyond the large crowd and imposing atmosphere, partially created by the Rose City Riveters, the Portland Thorns Supporters’ Group, the FIFA 2-Star rated pitch played a large factor in the team’s success as they primarily have been training there. When I spoke with goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc after training last week, she indicated that the field conditions at Kansas City played a large role in the style of play and ball movement for the Thorns.

It’s safe to assume that when the Thorns travel to Chicago, the field conditions will be much similar to what they saw in Kansas City versus their home pitch, and it will be important for the Thorns to adjust to the field conditions early and play their possession oriented, attacking style we saw last week, rather than booting the ball up and down the field as we saw much of the first match.

What do the Red Stars need to do?

In their first match of the season, the Red Stars came out with their shooting boots on, registering 12 total shots, with 9 of those shots on goal, led by midfielder Lori Chalupny’s 4 total shots and shots on goal. In addition, the Red Stars were awarded 9 corner kicks, 7 in the second half, indicating that statically they spent much of the match on the attack. While the possession stats were relatively even, the Red Stars completed many more first touches and passes than Seattle, especially in the second half, when their attack started clicking, though they got no goals to show for it.

For the Red Stars to have success in this match, they will have to look to disrupt the Thorns attack, especially the distribution through the midfield from Sinclair and Nikki Washington to Morgan. Look for this task to fall to midfielders Leslie Osborne and Shannon Boxx, as they provide an extra defensive line to muffle the Portland attack. Additionally, they will be needing superb play from goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who was not tested much by the Seattle attack in the first match, only facing 4 shots and allowing the lone goal.

Red Stars head coach Rory Dames looks forward to facing the Thorns, especially Sinclair and Morgan. “Sinclair can cause some real problems,” he said. “She can play in midfield, up front, behind the line and off the line. They have a top 5 goal scorer in Alex. She has been scoring at an incredible rate at the international level. She’s dangerous behind the line, and able to finish with both feet and her head. We will learn a lot about ourselves in the 90 minutes of this game.”

On the attacking side of the ball, look for ball to move through Chalupny and midfielder Alyssa Mautz, who combined 7 total shots and 6 shots on goal, and looking to spring forwards Ella Masar and Jessica McDonald. If the Red Stars can get their attack going and push the Thorns defense, they should be able to break through, as they have yet to post a clean sheet this season.

What will be most important for the Red Stars is to take advantage of their familiarity of the field conditions, as well as having an additional week to prepare for the Thorns. If they can keep to their game plan and force the Thorns off their game, they will have much more success in this match versus trying to absorb the attack and run solely off the counterattack.

Projected Lineups

With the success the Thorns have had over the past game and a half, it is hard to see why Coach Parlow Cone would make any changes to her lineup, with forward Danielle Foxhoven being a key player off the bench. Look for the same hybrid 4-4-2/4-3-3, with Sinclair playing a withdrawn striker/attacking midfielder role.

For the Red Stars, look for the lineup to be similar to the one that played in the second half against Seattle, with forward Jessica McDonald replacing Lauren Fowlkes up top, while Boxx joins Osborne on the defensive midfield line, coming out in a 4-2-3-1.

chi-por-lineup

What to Expect?

Look for the Thorns to want to come out and attack, using the distributing skills of Sinclair to get the offense going, while trying to maintain more of the possession than they have in their first two matches. For added width, the Thorns will need Washington pushing forward out of the midfield and adding to the attack. The Red Stars will try to counter the Thorns attack with the defensive skills of Osborne and Boxx out of the midfield, but the key for the Red Stars may be getting Chalupny linking up with the forward line and fueling their attack.

On the defensive side of the field, both teams will need superb play from their respective Canadian international goalkeepers, as well as their backlines, where Portland has been more tested through their first 2 matches of the season, while Chicago has only faced a single shot on goal, giving up Seattle’s lone goal.

Keys to the Match

Thorns

  1. Adapt to field conditions
  2. Midfield distribution
  3. Keep to your game plan

Red Stars

  1. Play your game
  2. Absorb and counter
  3. Attack, attack, attack.

Score Predictions: I may be overvaluing the effect of the field conditions, but I think it will play a large part of how these teams play. The Thorns looked lost to start the match against Kansas City, but if the Thorns are able to adapt and play their game, it could be a long night for the Red Stars. The Red Stars have a solid team, but they will need to have contributions from more than just Chalupny and Mautz, if they expect to score on the Thorns, whose defense appears to now be clicking, especially the play of centerback Rachel Buehler and LeBlanc. This should be another exciting game, and I expect the Thorns to emerge victorious, 2-1.


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