Portland Thorns FC (4-0-1, 13pts) vs. Sky Blue FC (3-1-1, 10pts)
Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 7:30pm PDT (10:30pm EDT)
JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Oregon
Watch The Match Here!
Twitter – @ThornsFC @SkyBlueFC

The Portland Thorns return home for only the second time this season as they host to Sky Blue FC in their first match since April 21st at JELD-WEN Field. The Thorns are coming into the match undefeated on the season and currently on a four-match winning streak having defeated the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 in Chicago on Sunday on first half goals from forward Alex Morgan and midfielder Allie Long. Meanwhile, Sky Blue is coming into Portland on the beginning of a three match road trip that takes them to the three most western located teams in the NWSL. In their last match, Sky Blue defeated the Seattle Reign 2-0 on goals in quick succession by forward Danesha Adams and Lisa De Vanna.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns handily defeated a tired Chicago Red Stars squad 2-0 on an early goal by Morgan and Long adding her first goal of the season off a perfectly placed cross from midfielder Nikki Washington. Unlike their previous matchup with the Red Stars, the Thorns controlled the match throughout, deflating Chicago with the early goal and then wearing them down as the match went on. The Thorns could have easily scored a couple more goals in this match, but a timely goal-line save and solid goalkeeping from Erin McLeod kept the Thorns at two goals.

The Thorns come into this match riding high, not leaving any points in four matches and only dropping two points on the season in the Week 1 draw with FC Kansas City. Morgan has been on fire, tied for second in the league in total scoring, while leading the lead in total shots (20) and shots on goal (15). Additionally, the midfield has solidified its play in all phases on the game, especially in the linking play necessary to spring their potent attack.

Sky Blue will present the stiffest test that the Thorns have seen since Week 1 bringing in a solid defense and offense. As always, the key for the Thorns will be to get their offense going early and often, as they did in their past match, while absorbing and countering the attack, which has brought much success for them this season.

The question for the Thorns will be how they handle playing on only three day’s rest for the first time this season, as well as having another match on Sunday, though Sky Blue will be having the same conundrum, though with an additional days rest.

What does Sky Blue need to do?

Sky Blue defeated the struggling Seattle Reign on Saturday as Adams scored off a free kick in the 30th minute and De Vanna beat Reign goalkeeper Michelle Betos 1 v 1 five minutes later. The match was statically even in most areas, but the ones that matter most: goals (2) and total shots (22-4). While Sky Blue faced some pushback in the second half, they were easily able to handle it.

Sky Blue comes in with one of the most potent attacks in the NWSL as three players are in the top 10 in total shots and shots on goal – forward Kelley O’Hara (20 shots/8 SOG), De Vanna (15/8), and Adams (12/7) – as well as midfielder Sophie Schmidt leading the team with 3 goals. The defense is anchored by goalkeeper Brittany Cameron who has performed admirably in place of the injured Jill Loyden and is tied for the league lead in shutouts (2) and only allowing 4 goals on 20 shots on goal, allowing less than a goal a match on average (.800 GAA).

Sky Blue has had an interesting season thus far, drawing the Red Stars last week, defeating the Western New York Flash in their first match of the season and the other wins came against Washington and Seattle, teams still looking for the attack to click. Their lone loss came in their second meeting with the Flash.

The Thorns will present a much different challenge, coming in with what is statically the best defense in the league. What works to Sky Blue’s advantage is their potent attack that can match Portland’s in firepower. They will need to push for possession and keep the ball out of their defensive third for success in this match. How the Schmidt-led midfield plays will be a key factor in determining how well they achieve this though, as well as getting their forwards actual scoring chances versus simply shooting the ball.

Projected Lineups

thorns-sky-blue-lineups-may-16-2013

Both of these squads seem to have found their starting lineups, and there is no reason to assume that this match will be any different. Sky Blue comes in using a top-heavy 4-3-3 that looks to attack early and often. The Thorns will likely continue to use the hybrid 4-4-2/4-3-3 that relies on the distribution of the midfield to the attack and the speed from Morgan and the outside midfielders. The biggest question though will be how the respective coaches decide to handle substitutions with less rest than normal and another short break before their next match.

What to Expect

It could be easy to expect a goal-fest with two of the top-scoring teams in the league facing off in Portland, and that is likely going to be the case. For either of these teams though, the attack will be reliant of midfield distribution, and both these teams have two of the best attacking midfielders in the game in Sinclair and Schmidt, teammates with the Canadian Women’s National Team. With both teams placing emphasis on the attack, it will be important for both team’s defenses to have solid games, and this is an area where Portland seems to have the advantage as well as a veteran goalkeeper in LeBlanc, while Cameron will likely be returning to a reserve role upon the nearing return of Loyden. This match will likely go based on how the Sky Blue defense handles the pressure and the attack counters.

Keys to the Match:

Thorns

  1. Go for the early goal
  2. Control the midfield and flow of the match
  3. Limit/Absorb the barrage of shots

Sky Blue

  1. Shoot with a purpose
  2. Control possession
  3. Disrupt the Thorns distribution

Score Prediction

This one is a bit harder to call. Both teams have solid attacks and it is possible that we could see a high scoring match, but it is also possible that the teams could bunker down and absorb the attack.

The Thorns a solid two-way team, while Sky Blue is more offensive-laden, and this will likely be the breaking point. Its too hard to ignore the success that the Thorns have had a both offense and defense, and because of this, I expect the Thorns to win 3-1, running their winning streak to five.