Portland Thorns (9-4-4, 31pts) v. Sky Blue FC (9-5-4, 31pts)
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 7:30pm PDT (10:30pm EDT)
JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Oregon
Watch the Match Here!
Radio – Freedom 970
Twitter – @ThornsFC @SkyBlueFC

Sky Blue FC heads west for the final time in the regular season as they travel to Portland to take on the Thorns at JELD-WEN Field on Wednesday at 7:30pm PDT (10:30pm EDT), in a match with significant implications for playoff seeding.  Sky Blue and the Thorns currently sit tied for 2nd place in the NWSL, with the Thorns having played one less match.

Sky Blue and the Thorns have met twice before this season, playing in incredibly even matches as Sky Blue’s Taylor Lytle broke a late deadlock in their first meeting May 16, handing the Thorns their first loss of the season.  In their second meeting on June 22 at Yurcak Field, both sides played to a hard-fought 0-0 draw.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns played a solid first 75 minutes against the Red Stars on Sunday, only to give up 2 late goals, settling for a 3-3 draw.  The major developments from that match was the return of Christine Sinclair to scoring form, scoring two, her first time to hit the scoresheet since May 25, while Mana Shim added another goal and has now scored in three consecutive matches.

The story of their match though, was the late-match collapse against a feisty Red Stars side, their first non-win of the season when scoring first.  The upward trend continued for the Thorns otherwise, as they appeared to be in control for much of the match, as Tobin Heath continued to be a difference-maker for the Thorns, while the Dani Foxhoven-Tiffany Weimer starter-substitution partnership proved to be a dangerous attacking option for the Thorns, with Weimer putting a ball away in the upper corner, only to have it called offside.

Sky Blue comes in as a wounded team, with four starters on the injured list, including three players listed as out: Caitlin Foord, Manya Makoski, and Kelley O’Hara, while Lisa De Vanna is listed as probable.  In addition, after going several matches with positive results across the early and middle part of the season, Sky Blue is winless in 5 (0-4-1).  With the Thorns trending upward and Sky Blue treading water, the opportunity is ripe for the Thorns to come away with a victory and create some separation between them and Sky Blue.

Wounded teams can often be hard teams to gameplan for, especially with the status of De Vanna in question.  The Thorns have to focus on themselves though and continue their revitalized offensive play.  With Sinclair finally hitting the mark again and Shim on a goalscoring tear, if either Morgan or Foxhoven find the back of the net, the Thorns should be able to run away with this match, though nothing is certain in this league.

What does Sky Blue need to do?

The wheels have fallen off a bit for Sky Blue in the past month, as they have dealt with injuries, national team call ups, and now a long goalless streak, which has reached 286 minutes.  Injuries have played the biggest role in their struggles, as head coach Jim Gabarra has been forced to scramble his lineups and playing several players out of their natural positions.

Even with all of that, Sky Blue has been able to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt, leading the league in points for much of the season, before being overtaken by FC Kansas City last week, whom they nearly played to a draw, only to give up a 76th minute goal.  While they have struggled of late, they were only been out of one match in recent weeks, the 3-0 loss to the Flash on July 21.

A key for success for Sky Blue will be there ability to keep the ball out of their defensive third.  With the offense struggling, they will need to dominate the midfield and on defense, as they have in their previous meeting with the Thorns.  If De Vanna is able to go, she should help spread the Thorns defense and give Sophie Schmidt and Monica Ocampo attacking opportunities, then attacking opportunities should be there, especially with the Thorns recent late-match collapse in mind.

Projected Lineups:

The Thorns and Sky Blue were mostly successful in their last matches with their starting lineups and formations, so it is unlikely that they would make changes, though it seems possible that Ocampo gets the start with De Vanna still ailing with dual hamstring injuries.  The Thorns came out in a 4-4-2 that can shift into a 4-1-3-2, with Foxhoven moving into a wide forward role and Sinclair moving center, while Sky Blue came out in a 4-4-2 in their last match, according to the positions listed on the statsheet, with Lindsi Lisonbee-Cutshall being a revelation in their match Sunday.

por-sbfc-july-31-lineup

Keys to the Match

Sky Blue-

  1. Find the back of the net
  2. Lock down the defensive third
  3. Control the midfield

Thorns-

  1. Keep the creative/attacking form
  2. Push SBFC backwards
  3. Lock down the defense

Score Prediction

At full strength, these teams are very evenly matched, as was proven in their first two meetings.  With the Thorns looking more dangerous than they ever had this season and Sky Blue in a holding pattern, it appears that the Thorns should take this match rather handily.  While I don’t see the match going that easily for the Thorns, I still see them emerging victorious 2-1, with Sky Blue breaking their scoreless streak.