Match Preview: Thorns vs. FC Kansas City

USA TODAY Sports

The Thorns will raise their championship banner as they kick off their home opener against FC Kansas City on Saturday at Providence Park

The Portland Thorns will meet FC Kansas City for the sixth time in franchise history, as they play their first home match of the season this Saturday at Providence Park.

While the overall series is tied at 2-2-1, the Thorns got the most important win of the between these two squads, defeating Kansas City 3-2 in overtime on August 24, 2013 to move on to the inaugural NWSL title match, where they defeated Western New York 2-0 to capture their first title, which will be honored prior to the match as a banner will be raised next to the Timbers’ Ring of Honor.

Portland Thorns

The Thorns come into the match having looked much improved last weekend over their first match of the season.  While the result ended in a 1-1 draw with Sky Blue FC, as Allie Long brought the match level with a penalty kick in the 75th minute.

The Thorns spent much of the match on the attack, having to push come back from the deficit, but Sky Blue was able to absorb the pressure and the Thorns continued to have issues connecting in the final third, having several opportunities either miss-hit or flagged offside.

The biggest place of improvement for the Thorns came in the midfield.  With Mana Shim replacing Angie Kerr in the starting lineup, the Thorns looked to be much more on the same page, moving the ball up the field with more fluidity and teammate awareness than in their first match.  Continuing her solid play from last week, Long was a constant threat in the attack while also tracking back on defense when needed.

Both Jessica McDonald and Christine Sinclair looked more threatening in the attack against Sky Blue, though neither of them has been effective in front of goal, only registering 2 shots on goal between them (on 6 shots) while being called offside 3 times.  While Long has been pushing up in the attack, Sinclair has found herself either dropping back into the midfield or wide, which can help with the distribution through the center of the pitch, but unfortunately also makes her less effective as a striker.

FC Kansas City

Kansas City presents a different type of challenge for the Thorns, as they are known for their attacking prowess.  Last season they were one of only two teams (Chicago) to score more than two goals against the Thorns, which they did twice, in a 4-3 thriller on June 6 in Portland and again 3-2 on August 4.  Lauren Holiday led their attack all season, but was especially dangerous against the Thorns, scoring 5 of her league-leading 12 goals during last year’s regular season.

This season has not started as the Blues expected.  Picked by many to finish at the top of the table, they currently sit on one point, coming from their home-opening draw against Sky Blue.  Last Saturday against Washington, they were completely overrun by the speed of Crystal Dunn , who provided 2 assists, and Diana Matheson, who scored 2 goals, as the Spirit defeated Kansas City 3-1.

The bright spot for them has come from Amy Rodriguez, who has scored both of their goals this season, but Holiday has yet to find her touch and they have yet to find the fluidity they played with last season.  Part of this could be caused by formation changes, going from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2, and the loss of defenders Kristie Mewis, Lauren Sesselmann, and midfielder Desiree Scott is definitely felt, as they have dropped a defensive midfielder, playing Jen Buczkowski by herself and starting rookie Kassey Kallman in the back.  Additionally, they lost defender Nikki Phillips just before halftime last weekend, and her status has not yet been released. Update: Phillips is expected to play Saturday.

The Blues do not appear to be struggling as much as they have not quite found their form yet.  Without their rock-solid defense though, they have not been able to get their attack going.  Rodriguez gives them a truly effective forward, something they lacked much of last season and a second weapon for defenses to key in on, which should give Holiday more freedom out of the midfield and force Nadine Angerer and the Thorns’ defense to keep on their toes.

Final Thoughts

When the Thorns and Blues met last season, you knew it was going to be a nervy, entertaining match, especially the two meeting in Portland.

Both teams find themselves in similar spots thus far, with neither of their attacks truly finding their footing.  While Kansas City retained more players from last season’s squad, the ones they did lose were a big reason why they were so successful.  Without Scott killing of the attack before it begins and Mewis drawing defenders out of the back, the Blues find themselves unable to spread the field on the attack, while getting beat by speedier players when on defense.

This bodes well for the Thorns attack, especially Long and McDonald, providing speed out wide and when Rebecca Moros and Courtney Niemiec push up the field in wingback roles.  What has been missing the most has been finishing in the box, and if the Thorns are able to make these connections, we will begin to see what this team can truly do.

Regardless of their attacking form, Kansas City presents the strongest and most complete side the Thorns have faced, which means they will need to play a complete game themselves.  We have been getting glimpses of what Riley wants his team to do, but they will need to step it up even further Saturday.

Thorns Keys to the Match

Contain Holiday – scoring 5 of your 12 goals against one team is an absurd stat, and regardless of her form thus far, something about the Thorns gave Holiday golden boots.  This task will likely fall to both Amber Brooks and Nikki Marshall, who will need to be at their best to contain her.

Finish – Last match, the Thorns had 18 shots, but only 4 of these ended up being on goal.  While Jill Loyden made some incredible saves considering the pressure she was under, the Thorns should have come away with at least a goal from the run of play.

Spread the Field – Washington was able to get 2 of their 3 goals from passes coming into the center of the field by using their speed in the attack to spread the field.  With McDonald and Long providing width, Sinclair should be able to find herself in open dangerous spots on the field.

Game Information

Portland Thorns (1-0-1, 4pts.) vs. FC Kansas City (0-1-1, 1pt.)

Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 7:00pm PDT

Providence Park - Portland, Oregon

Streaming - Watch Here

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