Portland Thorns FC (2-0-1, 7pts) v. Washington Spirit (0-1-2, 2pts)
Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 7:00pm EDT/4:00pm PDT
Maryland SoccerPlex, Germantown, Maryland
Watch the Match Here!
Twitter – @ThornsFC @WashSpirit

The Portland Thorns will once again be looking to emerge victorious, as they travel to Germantown, Maryland to take on the Washington Spirit. The Thorns are coming off their second straight victory, defeating Chicago on goals by forwards Dani Foxhoven and Christine Sinclair, while the Spirit suffered their first defeat, falling 2-1 to Sky Blue FC, with midfielder Diana Matheson getting the lone goal.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns come in having played possibly their most complete match of the season, dominating much of the run of play and leading in nearing every statically category in their last match against the Red Stars. The dynamic attacking duo of Sinclair and forward Alex Morgan was supplemented by another “super-sub” performance by Foxhoven, who scored the first goal and factored into the second.

Once again, Sinclair was in an attacking midfield/withdrawn striker role, which pushed midfielder Angie Kerr up top. While Kerr had some solid runs, she was subbed off at the half and replaced by Foxhoven, who made an immediate impact on the flow of the game. The attacks came through Sinclair, whose superb distribution allowed Morgan to tally a match-high 4 shots on goal, including a sequence in the first 15 minutes, where she had two solid scoring chances.

It is become clearer that this team is continuing to click and locking in the style of play and ball movement that head coach Cindy Parlow Cone is looking for. This team looks very different than it did just a few weeks ago, and it is proving to be as dangerous as everyone expected, but their defense cannot be overlooked either. Against Chicago last week, they did not allow a single shot on goal in the first half and survived a late run of attacks by the Red Stars unscathed. The backline, along with goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc and defensive midfielder Becky Edward has been lights out, and will need to be once again as they face the Spirit.

For the Thorns to emerge victorious in their third straight match, they will need to do what they do best, control the match and attack. Sinclair has been playing out of her mind, and her play will again be key if the Thorns want to come out with 3 points.

What do the Spirit need to do?

The Spirit comes in off their first loss of the season, where their defense was pushed to the limit by Sky Blue FC. While Matheson scored in the 35th minute for the Spirit and they were completive the whole match, they were unable to find the equalizer. Statically, the Spirit played a pretty even match, with the lone outlier being shots allowed and goals scored.

While Sky Blue boasted a solid offense in the Spirit’s last match, the Thorns bring in arguably the leagues strongest attack of Sinclair and Morgan, with Foxhoven coming in off the bench. The ability to neutralize these threats will fall to a backline containing US internationals Ali Krieger, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, as well as midfielder Lori Lindsay and Canadian international defender Robin Gayle, and it will be another busy day for them.

On the attack, the Spirit will need more contributions from the forward line. Through 3 matches, the offense has run through Matheson, who is currently tied with Sinclair and 4 others for the league lead in goals scored with 2. While forwards Stephanie Ochs and Tiffany McCarty both have an assist on the year, you expect more from your forwards, and they will need to step it up to break through the solid Portland backline, who have only allowed 2 goals on the season.

The main advantage that the Spirit will have coming into this match is playing on their home turf in an expect sellout, while the Thorns are traveling across the country for the second week in a row.

Spirit head coach Mike Jorden is looking forward to the Thorns coming to visit. “Everyone in this league knows what those two are capable of (Morgan and Sinclair), and it’ll be an exciting challenge for us to stop them. Portland has plenty of quality players, and we’re looking forward to the test in front of another great home crowd.”

Projected Lineups

por-wsh-may-4-lineup

The Thorns have been incredibly successful the past two matches with this lineup, especially in the second half last week, so expect the same lineup, with the exception of Foxhoven getting her first start of the season, replacing Kerr up top with Morgan, and either Kerr or midfielder Elizabeth Guess taking Foxhoven’s “super sub” role. The Thorns will come out again in a wide 4-4-2 diamond/hybrid 4-3-3 with Sinclair as a withdrawn striker.

For the Spirit, there has been nothing out of Washington to indicate that they are making any changes, though second half substitute forward Caroline Miller made an immediate impact off the bench against Sky Blue, so it possible she may get the start or be the first sub off the bench. The Spirit will likely come out in a standard 4-4-2 diamond, though it is possible they may hold their outside midfielders back to add another layer for the Thorns to have to break through.

What to Expect

As usual, the Thorns will look to come out attacking and look to push the Spirit defense early and often, while also looking to control the pace and possession of the game, while the Spirit will try to counter with attacking runs by Matheson, as well on the outside with Krieger adding another threat. I expect both defenses to be busy, and they have been up to the task thus far this season, but the three-pronged attack of Morgan, Sinclair, and Foxhoven will give the Spirit more trouble than Matheson will for the Thorns. With so much focus on both the attack and defense, it’s possible that the play of outside midfielders Nikki Washington and Allie Long for the Thorns and Ingrid Wells and Julia Roberts possibly being the x-factor for the match.

Keys to the Match

Thorns:

1. Attack early and often
2. Stick to the game plan
3. Defend the counter

Spirit:

1. Find your shooting boots
2. Disrupt the Thorns rhythm
3. Take the opportunities given

Score Predictions

How the Thorns adjust to another cross-country flight will play a big factor into how this game starts out early. While the Thorns will always look to attack early and often, if they don’t start strong, it’s possible for the Spirit to steal an early goal.

My expectation though is that the Thorns will come out strong and push the Spirit defense early and often. This team is looking more complete and in sync each match, while the Spirit seems to still be finding their identity as a team. I have the Thorns continuing their winning streak, 2-1.