Portland Thorns (9-4-4, 30pts) v. Chicago Red Stars (6-7-4, 22pts)
Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 4:00pm PDT (6:00pm EDT)
JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Oregon
TV – FOX Soccer (No Livesteam Available)
Radio – Freedom 970
Twitter – @ThornsFC @ChicagoRedStars

The Chicago Red Stars look to close out their final Pacific Northwest swing as they head to Portland to take on the Portland Thorns for their fourth and final meeting of the season.  The match is scheduled to kickoff at 4:00pm PDT (6:00pm CDT) from JELD-WEN Field and will be televised on FOX Soccer.

The first three meeting have been chippy, physical, but ultimately one-sided affairs, with the Thorns winning the first two matches in Chicago and the Red Stars earning their first victory of the season against an allocated player-less Thorns side in their first trip to Portland.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns appeared to have turned the corner from their month-long winless streak, which covered much of June and early July.  The main catalyst for this turnaround has been the inclusion of United States international Tobin Heath, who has brought a level of playmaking and tenacity that the Thorns were sorely lacking.  While star forward Christine Sinclair has yet to find back of net in several matches, her strike-partner Alex Morgan finally netted her first goal in over a month in their last match against Boston, as the Thorns were able to come back from a goal down to defeat the Breakers 2-1.

Standing in the way of the Thorns is a Red Stars side that has been surging as of late, but hit a major speed bump with the loss of defender Taryn Hemmings, which was greatly noticeable in their loss Thursday.  This gives the Thorns a major weakness to attack and exploit, especially if they put out a similar high-powered lineup as they did against Boston, with three forwards and two attacking midfielders, and they can overload the Red Stars defense and trust that their defense can handle the Red Stars counterattack.

The Thorns formula for success early in the season was to take control of the match early, but as of late, the Thorns have found themselves having to come from behind to get a result.  A major catalyst has been the impressive play of midfielder Mana Shim, who has scored timely goals in consecutive matches, and is now tied for third (with Dani Foxhoven) with 3 goals.  Shim’s play could be key to success for the Thorns, especially if the Red Stars key in on the Thorns forward line, especially Morgan and Sinclair.

What do the Red Stars need to do?

The Red Stars come back to the place where their season turned around, defeating a shorthanded Thorns side 2-0.  Both the Red Stars and Thorns saw their fortunes change significantly since that June 1st match, with the Red Stars earning positive results against the top teams in the NWSL, including FC Kansas City (1-1-1) and Western New York Flash (1-0-1).

Leading the Red Stars is midfielder Lori Chalupny, whose two-way play has been significant all season, especially as legendary international forwards Maribel Dominguez (Mexico) and Inka Grings (Germany) have struggled to find success on the scoreboard and the squad has struggled with injuries to key players.  The Red Stars still have found a way to win, with six wins since the Red Stars and Thorns last met; relying on their defense to keep the opponent out of matches and finding the necessary goals to win.

A defense-first strategy will present a problem against the Thorns attack-minded style of play that has been seen as of late, and the loss of Hemmings doesn’t help their cause.  The Red Stars have the weapons to push the Thorns backwards, but the final touch has been lasting.  If they can prove dangerous on the attack and disruptive in the midfield, they can force a low-scoring match that benefits their style of play.

Projected Lineups

The Thorns came out with a new look last weekend, bringing in ‘super-sub’ Foxhoven into the starting lineup for Tiffany Weimer and going for a more attacking 4-1-2-3 with five players in attacking positions and the formation change did prove successful, as they won their first match in over a month.

The Red Stars have been consistent with their lineup of late, with the only change made in their five previous matches being Jackie Santacaterina replacing the injured Hemmings, as they come out in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 and while production from the top line has been less than anticipated, they are still 3-1-1 in those matches, with the lone loss coming in their last match against a suddenly-dominant Seattle side.

thorns-crs-july-28-lineup

Keys to the Match

Thorns-

  1. Attack and Counter
  2. Maintain Possession
  3. Solid First Touch and Finishing

Red Stars-

  1. Attack on the Break
  2. Disrupt the Midfield
  3. Keep the Ball out of your 18.

Score Prediction

The Thorns are looking more like the powerful side each week since Heath’s arrival, while the Red Stars are pushing to sneak into the playoffs.  With much riding on this match for both sides, they will look to field their best on the national stage.  With vastly different styles of play clashing, this match has the potential to be an unpredictable one, especially if both teams find the back of the net early.  Ultimately though, this match will once again come down to firepower, and the Thorns top line is potentially the most dangerous in the league, at least on paper, and I see this being the difference-maker, as the Thorns continue their improved form, 2-1.