Portland Thorns (10-5-4, 34pts) v. Boston Breakers (6-7-6, 24pts)
Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 4:00pm PDT (7:00pm EDT)
Dilboy Stadium, Somerville, Massachusetts
Watch the Match Here! ($4.95)
Twitter – @ThornsFC @BostonBreakers

The Portland Thorns head east for their final meeting of the regular season with the Boston Breakers, in a match set to kick off at 4:00pm PDT (7:00pm EDT) at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville, Massachusetts.  This match has significant playoff implications for the Thorns, who only need a draw for a playoff berth, and the Breakers, who need a win to stay in the race.

The Thorns and Breakers have met twice this season.  In their first meeting on July 6, the Breakers used two first half goals from Sydney Leroux and a superb performance in goal from Alyssa Naeher to shutout the Thorns 2-0 in Portland.  In their second meeting in Boston, the Thorns used goals from Alex Morgan and Mana Shim to defeat the Breakers 2-1, with Lianne Sanderson scoring for Boston.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns came out flat in their last match, Sunday against FC Kansas City.  Whether it was fatigue from playing their third match in a week or perfect game planning from the Blues, the Thorns looked to give up the at the end of the match, even when a result was still within reach. The Thorns saw two streaks end in this loss, Shim ending her goalscoring streak at 4 matches and Tobin Heath ending her streak of 4 yellow cards in four matches.

Regardless of what happened in their last match, the Thorns need to put that behind them and move on, even with fatigue being a major factor this late in the season.  While the Thorns have at least statically dominated much of their recent matches, there have been mixed results.  Thoroughly dominating much of the match against the Red Stars and Sky Blue, the Thorns have proven they can take complete control of a match, and this is what they will need to do against the Breakers, a team still fighting for their playoff lives.

Their opponent is very much a squad in flux, as the Breakers fired head coach Lisa Cole last week and appointed Cat Whitehill as player-coach, a surprising development considering they are still in the playoff race.  Whether the Breakers are waving the white flag remains to be seen, but the five-match goalless streak of Leroux has not aided their efforts.

Having played the Breakers twice to different results, the Thorns should have a solid gameplan to handle Boston.  Whether the coaching change will change tactics will have to wait until kickoff, but the Thorns know what they need to do to do defeat the Breakers, which is doing what they do best: spread the field and using speed off the wing to get past the opponents’ back line and go 1v1 with the keeper.  With Ashley Phillips in net in their last meeting, her tendency to rush the attacker proved futile on the Thorns first goal, as Morgan was able to speed past her and find the back of the net.  If the Thorns are able to push this strategy and contain Leroux and Sanderson, they should effectively contain the Breakers.

What do the Breakers need to do?

The Breakers are a team in major transition.  Firing your head coach, dealing with injuries, and seeing your leading-scorer not find the back of the net for a month.  The Breakers almost had everything looking to go their way in their last, until Western New York rushed back in the last 15 minutes, scoring two goals and stealing vital points from Boston’s playoff chase.  While the Breakers playoff chances aren’t completely crushed, they need a lot to go their way, needing at least a draw and some help from the Flash.

A tired Thorns side is flying across the country to Boston. With Portland staring down their fourth match in 10 days, the Breakers have more than a chance to down the Thorns and keep their playoff hopes alive.  To do this, they will need Sanderson to continue her run of form and Leroux to break out of her slump, while also keeping the Thorns’ dangerous attackers at bay.  The Breakers’ season hinges on the result of this match, and they will need to play out of their minds Wednesday night.

With the majority of their players healthy and a tired opponent, the Breakers have a good chance of keeping their playoff hopes alive.  While there will be quite a fight coming their way from the Thorns, the Breakers proved in their first match with the Thorns that they can play with them.  The key in that match was the solid defensive play anchored by Naeher, and they will need that again with the Thorns pressing their attack at the highest rate all season, averaging nearly 20 shots in their last three matches.

Projected Lineups

Playing their 4th match in such a short time-span, the Thorns could choose to try and preserve their key players for the seemingly tougher match later in the week against the Flash.  However, with the Thorns reserves thin at important positions, it is much more likely that they will stay with the same lineup as their past several matches.

The Breakers have made few changes in the lineup over the last several matches, but with a new coach and a disappointing end to their last match, they could make wholesale changes to their lineup, but that is doubtful with so much on the line.

bos-por-aug-7-2013-lineup

Keys to the Match

Thorns-

  1. Forget the last match
  2. Pressure the Breakers’ defense
  3. Contain Leroux and Sanderson

Breakers-

  1. Find your attack
  2. Push the Thorns’ high-line defense
  3. Disrupt the midfield and contain the Thorns attackers

Match Prediction

The Thorns and Breakers both have much riding on the result of this match, and I expect both sides to approach this match as a do or die situation.  The Breakers desperately need a win in this match to keep their playoff hopes alive, but the Thorns want to host the playoffs and were visibly disappointed with their play in the last match, especially as a divide in the locker room was revealed following the match.  This is where I think the advantage goes to Portland, who has said they are playing with the City of Portland on their backs.