Portland Thorns FC (4-1-1, 13pts) v. Washington Spirit (1-2-3, 6pts)
Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 2:00pm PDT (5:00pm EDT)
JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Oregon
Watch the Game Here!
Radio – Freedom 970 (970AM)
Live Audio

Twitter – @ThornsFC @WashSpirit

The Washington Spirit come to Portland riding high off their first victory of the season, while the Portland Thorns will be looking to ensure that their last match was just a blip, as the two squads face off for their second meeting of the season.

The Spirit defeated the Seattle Reign 4-2, with goals from midfielder Diana Matheson (37’), forward Tiffany McCarty (56’), and defenders Ali Krieger (41’) and Tori Huster (84’), while the Thorns dropped their first match of the season to Sky Blue FC in their first home match since defeating Seattle April 21.

The first meeting of the season was a controversial one, with both teams being awarded and converting goals from the penalty spot. Thorns forward Alex Morgan calmly placed the ball past Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris in the 12th minute and Matheson put her shot past Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc late in the match. The deciding goal came in the 51st minute as Thorns midfielder Nikki Washington stole the ball off an errant pass from Krieger and placed a beautiful curling ball past Harris.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns come in scratching their heads after suffering their first loss of the season. In a match that looked like it would be a shootout, it came down to perfectly placed ball from Sky Blue’s Taylor Lytle to decide the match.

“Any time you are pushing and trying to score and you’re getting chances and not able to finish, it’s frustrating to the players,” said Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone following Thursday’s match. “I think they kept their head, kept their cool and they kept fighting. I love the attitude, the mentality and the spirit of this team. They kept fighting all the way to the end even though they were missing near chances, missing wide, missing high; getting a little bit unlucky at times. But I love the spirit and unfortunately we lost to a very good Sky Blue team today.”

Probably the key contributing factor in the Thorns’ frustration was the ability of Sky Blue to breakdown the Thorns attack and disrupt the linking play from the midfield. Facing the speedy attack of Sky Blue, the Thorns had to commit outside midfielders Washington and Allie Long into more of a defensive role, and it clearly affected the Thorns attack as they were stuck resorting to a long-ball attack that was predicated on the speed of their forwards. Between the stifling defense of Sky Blue and some questionable offside calls, the Thorns were never able to truly get their attack going.

The Thorns will need to move on from the loss though, and quickly. With the Spirit coming in off their first victory of the season, it will be imperative for the Thorns to get back to their game plan, attack early and often on the opponent’s goal, and look to limit the attacking opportunities for a Spirit side that is tied with the Thorns for the league-lead with nine goals scored, though four of those came in their last match.

Prior to Thursday’s match it appeared that the Thorns were becoming and unstoppable force on both offense and defense, and for 80 minutes, defense ruled the match, and Rachel Buehler didn’t see the loss as bad, “Having a loss like this early in the season; there is a lot of season left to play. I think we could come back from one loss. I think in a way it’s not a bad thing.”

For the Thorns to move on it will be key for the midfield to resume their previous form and positioning. Against Sky Blue the Thorns pinched in their outside midfielders, which may have affected the Thorns attack, as their back passes often went nowhere or was stolen by the opponent. Washington does not present the same attacking prowess of Sky Blue though, so the Thorns shouldn’t have to worry as much about committing as many to the defense, which will allow them to play more of their own game and cater less to the opponent.

What does the Spirit need to do?

The simple answer would be to play the same game as they did against Seattle, but that is easier said than done when you go from playing one the league’s weaker offenses and defenses to one of the best. While the 4-2 victory gives them much to build off of, Sunday will be a much different match for them, and it will not be easy for them to score a lone goal, let alone four.

Defense was the name of the game in their first meeting with the Thorns, and it’s not likely to change this time. Even though the Thorns were not able to score against Sky Blue, they had their chances and come in with the second highest number of total shots (68) and shots on goal (38) and have the league’s leader in shots on goal in Morgan. Taking away the offensive explosion from the Seattle match though, you find a Spirit squad that is looking to still find its attack outside the play of Matheson, who leads the team with four goals.

For the Spirit to find success against the Thorns, they will need to do what they in the first meeting in containing the attack, while also attacking as well. Their confidence should be up after nearly doubling their goal total on the season, but they will need more than just Matheson leading the attack and while forward Tiffany McCarty does have two goals herself, strike partners Caroline Miller and Stephanie Ochs have yet to find the back of the net themselves. They played well against the Thorns in the last match, but they will need to step it up even more in this match.

Projected Lineups

With the success the Spirit had against the Reign in their last match, it is unlikely that they will make any changes from that line up, though they will likely go more defensive.

For the Thorns, it’s harder to say. They looked tired and uninspired at times in their last match, and the midfield itself wasn’t very impressive, but that could have resulted from tactical shifts as well as fatigue from playing their second match in four days. While the lineup could be the same, it is also possible that there could be lineup changes, with three matches in a week and the loss of the national teamers looming, so the potential replacements are listed in italics, with the projected starters on the top of the list.

thorns-spirit-lineup

What to Expect

Washington knows what they have to do against the Thorns, and were fairly successful in dealing with the attack. If they are able to limit mistakes and take advantage of attacking opportunities, they will be able to stick with the Thorns, though again they will need more than Matheson to score against the Thorns excellent defense.

The Thorns will be coming out to prove that the last match was just a blip on their reign to NWSL supremacy, and to do that they will try to control possession and attack early, while stopping any attack by the Spirit. With Washington being less of a threat than Sky Blue was, the Thorns will be able to control more of the midfield and integrate their outside midfielders better in the attack, while also playing less long-ball and a more controlled, sustained attack.

Keys to the Match

Spirit:

  • Play smart defense
  • Control the midfield
  • Attack with purpose

Thorns:

  • Control the flow of the game
  • Precise attacks
  • Contain Matheson

Score Prediction

Both teams put in surprise performances in their matches Thursday; the Spirit for how successful on the attack, for the Thorns, how discombobulated they appeared to be in the midfield and on the attack. The Spirit will want to keep it going, while the Thorns must prove that it was simply a bad day for them. I think that both teams will come out inspired with something to prove, but who gets the better of the other will depend on a variety of things. The Thorns have the better record and looked better on paper, while the Spirit only average a goal a match if you take out the 4 goal performance Thursday. With the better defense and more attacking options, the Thorns will return to their winning ways, 2-1.