Portland Thorns FC vs. Sky Blue FC
Date: Thursday, May 16, 2013
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. (Pacific)
Location: JELD-WEN Field
Forecast: 66 degrees, partly cloudy
Local Radio: Freedom 970 AM
Week Six of the NWSL season finds the Thorns returning home toting a five-game unbeaten streak, a four-game win streak, and a first-place spot atop the league table with 13 points. The team's brutally scheduled three-game road stretch behind them, the Thorns return home to Jeld-Wen to take on the second place Sky Blue FC on Thursday, March 16.
Portland has outpaced its first five opponents 9-3. That kind of on-paper dominance looks good, but, having taken on the league's weaker teams so far, the Thorns have yet to earn their street cred.
In that context, Sky Blue FC should prove Portland's biggest test to this point, and the team from Jersey has some things going for it. SBFC sits alone in second place with 10 points, a 3-1-1 record, and a lot of momentum, having just administered a good old fashioned 2-0 rogering to the Seattle Reign FC last weekend.
Much of the squad's success is due to Canadian international midfielder (and former Portland Pilot) Sophie Schmidt, who comes in red-hot. Like Christine Sinclair, Schmidt has been sitting back behind the first line of attack, working as a distributor, while still taking full advantage of scoring opportunities. Unlike Sinclair, Schmidt is a natural midfielder, and her quality service has been notable, but not quite as notable as her three goals -a promising output for someone not particularly known for scoring.
The good news is that while Schmidt has been scoring, the players expected to be offense threats for SBFC -Denesha Adams and Lisa De Vanna-- have not. While the pair both scored in the win over Seattle, their output has been disappointing so far. An aggressive player, De Vanna will most likely test the Thorns defenders more intensely than any player the team has faced. De Vanna likes to force the issue; if she overcomes her inability to finish, the Thorns backline will be facing its biggest test yet.
The Thorns will counter with Alex Morgan, who seems to be on one of her rolls. Morgan has taken a league-high 15 shots on goal (five more than the next closest player, Abby Wambach; seven more than De Vanna; and eight more than Adams), three of which have found the net. Almost as important, Morgan has proven such a threat that other teams lose focus on other Thorns, resulting in nice bit of scoring parity for Portland. Along with Morgan, Allie Long, Marian Dougherty, Nikki Washington, Danielle Foxhoven, and Sinclair have all scored in the first five games.
What Portland Needs to Do
Shut down Schmidt, frustrate De Vanna, and score early to put SBFC back on its heels.
What SBFC Needs to Do
Stick to Morgan like glue, clog up Portland's connecting passes in the middle, and disrupt Portland's overlapping runs on the outside.