Portland Thorns FC vs. Sky Blue FC
Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. (Pacific)
Location: JELD-WEN Field (Portland, Ore.)
Radio: Freedom 970 AM
"These next 10 days are going to dictate where we are in the season and what happens come playoff time. Right now, we're battling to finish first and to host. That's our goal." -Christine Sinclair, after last Sunday's game
"We have to start peaking, because we're not just looking to get into the playoffs. We want to host, we want to finish first, and these were a critical three points that we let slip and I think we're all going to go away from this game and feel a little bit pissed off, to be honest. I think we need to go into Wednesday's game and make sure we seal those three points." -Tobin Heath, after last Sunday's game
Portland Thorns FC enter Wednesday's home match against New Jersey's Sky Blue FC riding a three-game unbeaten streak. Sky Blue, meantime, hasn't won in the last three games, its last defeat coming on Sunday via a 1-0 home loss to FC Kansas City. Still, Portland doesn't have a whole lot of momentum entering the game. Sunday's 3-3 draw with the Chicago Red Stars felt more like a loss than a tie, and this team still struggles to put together a full 90 minutes of cohesive play.
The Thorns need to find form fast, as this game marks the second of three they will play in a span of 10 days, and the final slate of games carry enormous playoff implications.
Portland (9-4-4) and Sky Blue (9-5-4) are tied for second place right now, at 31 points apiece, although Portland has a game in hand. The Thorns need to win this match to have any chance at winning the tiebreaker between the two teams in the event they end the season with the same record. The Thorns also need to maintain pace in the standings if they have any hope of overtaking first-place FC Kansas City, who top the table with 34 points (which, as you can see from both Sinclair and Heath's statements, is the team's goal).
Portland has faced Sky Blue twice this season, losing the first match 1-0 at Jeld-Wen, then drawing the away game 0-0.
What to Worry About
Obviously, the Thorns have struggled to score against SBFC, and much of this is due to the tactics of Sky Blue's crafty, veteran head coach, Jim Gabarra. Gabarra has made the most of the advantageous match-ups between his squad and the Thorns; Portland has struggled to find width and consistent possession against his strategies. Part of said strategies is having the seasoned defender Christie Rampone mark Alex Morgan. In their match-ups this season, Rampone has completely shut Morgan down, better than any other defender in the league.
What to be Optimistic About
Having scored six goals in the last three games, Portland's offense finally seems to be clicking. The addition of Tobin Heath in the midfield has transformed this team, allowing the strikers to actually attack. Heath's ability to deliver solid -and often stellar-service allows the likes of Morgan and Sinclair to get quality shots on goal. And while defenses are (rightfully) obsessing on those two, Mana Shim often hustles to fill in the gaps. Now playing in her rightful position as attacking midfielder, Shim has scored three goals in the last three games. This is a different team than the one that took on Sky Blue twice earlier in the season; Rampone may still be able to shut Morgan down, but now that Sinclair and Shim are unleashed, it may not be enough for Sky Blue to neutralize just one player.
A second advantage for Portland: Sky Blue will be without the services of injured players Caitlin Foord (left foot sprain), Manya Makoski (concussion), and Kelly O'Hara (right ankle sprain), while the dangerous Lisa De Vanna (5 goals, 1 assist) has been hobbled by a hamstring strain (although she is listed as probable).
Stat You Can Interpret However You Want
Of the five teams Portland will play to finish out the season, three have winning records.