Portland Thorns (10-4-4, 34pts) v. FC Kansas City (10-4-5, 35pts)
Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 5:30pm PDT (7:30pm CDT)
JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Oregon
Television – FOX Soccer
Radio – Freedom 970
Twitter – @ThornsFC @BluesGameday

The Portland Thorns close out their regular season home schedule as they welcome Lauren Holiday and FC Kansas City in match with major playoff seeding and hosting implications.  The match is scheduled to kickoff at 5:30pm PDT (7:30pm CDT) and will be broadcast nationally on FOX Soccer.  With either a victory or draw, either side will earn a spot in the playoffs.

The Thorns and Blues have met three times this season.  In their first meeting, in the NWSL’s inaugural match in Kansas City, the Thorns and Blues played to a 1-1 draw, as then FCKC forward Renae Cuellar stunned the Thorns by scoring in the 3rd minute, before the Thorns’ Danielle Foxhoven drew a penalty that was converted by Christine Sinclair.  The Thorns and Blues met again on June 6 in Portland, as the Thorns won a 4-3 thriller, which saw four different Thorns players’ score, while Holiday (then Cheney) netted 2 goals for the Blues.  In their most recent meeting, back in Kansas City, the Blues shut out the Thorns 2-0, on goals by Holiday and Merritt Mathias.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns put together another come from behind victory in their last match, Wednesday against Sky Blue FC.  The Thorns went down early, as a Sky Blue free kick ricocheted of a Thorns’ defender’s head and into the net in the 18th minute, giving Sky Blue life in a match the Thorns had dominated early.  The Thorns recovered quickly though, as Alex Morgan responded with a goal of her own in the 37th minute, her 7th on the year, Mana Shim added another goal in the 65th minute, her 4th goal in 4 matches, and Allie Long hit a perfectly placed floater from distance in the 73rd minutes, as the Thorns handily defeated a significantly shorthanded Sky Blue side.

The Thorns have dominated most of their recent matches, save for the last 15 minutes of their match versus Chicago.  Many factors have come into play for the Thorns recent success, especially the play of Shim and the return to goalscoring form of Morgan and Sinclair, as well as the playmaking abilities and tenacity of Tobin Heath, who has 3 assists, as well as 4 yellow cards, in her 4 appearances.  The yellow card accumulation will be an issue for both Heath and Morgan, as they both currently sit one card from a one match suspension, which may cause the Thorns to slightly adjust their play in regards to Heath and Morgan.

There a big challenge standing in their way for the Thorns, as a rolling FCKC side has not lost a match in their last 9 contests, going 6-0-3.    The Thorns have shown they are up to the challenge when playing the tougher teams in the NWSL, especially in recent matches and are now showing that their scoring can pace their opponents’, when needed.  Key to containing the Blues’ scoring is the ability to contain Holiday and Erika Tymrak, the reigning NWSL Player of the Month and show why they have one of the best defenses in the league.

The Thorns need a result from this match to create further separation in playoff seeding while keeping pace with FCKC.  With multiple players in scoring form and several other attacking options, the Thorns have the capability to overrun the Blues’ defense, especially with a powerful forward line that spreads the attack.  The Blues have the best defense statically in the league, so the Thorns will yet again have a challenge on their hands.

What do the Blues need to do?

FC Kansas City has been on a roll of late, rising to the top of the league and showing why their defense is the best in the league, recording a shutout in each of their six victories, while also showcasing the scoring prowess of Holiday, Tymrak, and Courtney Jones.

Standing in their way is an ever-improving Thorns side, which appear to have not only gotten past their goalscoring woes, but have scored 8 goals in their last three matches, all victories.  With Sinclair, Morgan, and the surprising Shim leading the Thorns attack, and Heath providing excellent service, they have been able to run defenses ragged, which will certainly pose issues for the Blues as they look to contain the Thorns many weapons.

With the Thorns likely to key in on Holiday and Tymrak on defense, other players will need step up for the Blues to draw the defensive pressureand spread the attack, where the Thorns can be particularly vulnerable, especially on set plays and the counterattack.  If the Blues are able to control this match and punish the Thorns on both offense and defense, then their streak will continue to 10 matches, if not, they’ll find themselves on the other side of the Thorns.

Projected Lineups

Neither of the teams have any reason to make any changes to their lineups.  The Thorns have been coming out in a 4-4-2, which can shift into either a 4-3-3 or 4-1-3-2, when needed, while the Blues come out in a 4-4-2.

por-fckc-aug-4-2013-lineup

Keys to the Match

Thorns-

  1. Open up the attack early.
  2. Spread the field and maintain possession.
  3. Contain the Blues attack and control your defensive third.

FC Kansas City-

  1. Spread the field.
  2. Control the midfield.
  3. Stop the Thorns’ attack.

Match Prediction

With both sides having a lot riding on this match and a national audience, both sides will be looking to put on the best show possible, which both of these sides are more than able to do.  In their previous meeting in Portland, the Thorns and Blues played to a 4-3 thriller, and I see this match likely to go the same way, with both sides looking to go all out in the attack.  Whether the usual suspects are the goalscorers remains to be seen, but in a playoff-like atmosphere, the competition will be high on Sunday in Portland.