The Portland Thorns (3-1-2, 11pts.) welcome the Western New York Flash (3-2-1, 10pts.) to Providence Park, in the first of two meetings in Portland between last season's finalists.
The Thorns and Flash have met once already this season, a 1-1 draw on May 3, with Flash debutant Sonia Bermudez scoring off a free kick in the 39th minutes, only to see Jessica McDonald tap in her third goal off a bobbled attempted save by Flash goalkeeper Lydia Williams in a match featuring a 38 minute lightning delay and rain throughout.
The Thorns come into the match after their first weekend off of the season after defeating the Houston Dash on McDonald's 57th minute goal. Struggling in the first half and nearly giving up a goal after a penalty kick was given to start the second, the Thorns finished up the match in control, with Nadine Angerer making a season-high 7 saves as Houston's pesky attack pushed to score their first goal at home, only to see their attempts go for naught.
This match against the Flash marks the first 3-match week of the season for the Thorns. After playing the Flash, Sky Blue FC comes to town on Saturday, and then the Thorns head to Kansas City next Wednesday, a factor Thorns coach Paul Riley will need to take into consideration when selecting his team for this match.
The Thorns defense has been solid all season, allowing only 4 goals in 6 matches, but the offense has still yet to find its rhythm, with midfield play still being an issue, as only McDonald and Allie Long has found the back of the net, while Christine Sinclair has had their chances, she has frustratingly not been able to capitalize on any of them.
While the Thorns are still looking for their complete attack, the Flash present an opportunity to be taken advantage of. Goalkeeper Lydia Williams is with Australia of the 2014 AFC Women's Asian Cup and defensive midfielder Angela Salem was red carded after receiving her second yellow in their last match. With two key players missing from their opponent's defensive unit, the Thorns will be looking to take advantage in front of goal with rookie Kelsey Wys making the start between the posts.
Western New York Flash
The Flash come into the match following a disappointing 3-2 loss to the Washington Spirit, which saw a them come back from down a goal to take the lead, only to lose it on a Kat Williamson own goal and Jodie Taylor hitting the game-winner and her second of the night, in the 78th minute.
The Flash have had to so some line up shuffling over the past few weeks, with the aforementioned Williams, as well as midfielder Sam Kerr, on international duty with Australia. The suspension of Salem forces Flash head coach Aaran Lines to dig deeper into his bench, potentially giving former Thorn Courtney Wetzel her first start of the season at defensive midfielder.
The Flash defense found themselves under immense pressure during the second half against the Spirit, facing 13 total shots and 6 on goal, allowing the two goals, showing they are susceptible to the opponent's pressure, which the Thorns can provide from multiple positions on the field.The Thorns possess the speed to frustrate the Flash, but they need to provide a threat to give the Flash second thoughts.
While the Flash may be showing some weakness on defense, their offense is as strong as ever, with Wambach scoring three times in their last two games, Carli Lloyd coming back from suspension last week and adding a goal of her own. Bermudez and Spanish compatriots Vicky Losada and Adriana Martin only add to their attacking options, giving them one of the most dangerous top 5's in the league, especially if teams solely focus on containing Wambach.
This match sets up a key sequence of matches for several Thorns. With the impending arrival of Vero Boquete and Stephanie Catley and the revelation that Riley believes Alex Morgan and Rachel Van Hollebeke will be ready to make their debuts on June 7th, this gives several players added motivation to prove they are deserving of starts and playing time over these established international stars, especially with Riley previously stating that these arriving players will be starters.
This added motivation will hopefully open up the Thorns attack and allow them to not simply get shots on goal, but also finding the back of the net as well. The Flash possess a solid defense, but also gave up 3 of their 7 goals allowed in their most recent match, and without Salem giving them an added defensive line, they will be in a bit of a precarious position if the Thorns get their attack going beyond the one goal a game hump they have only surpassed once this season.
Wambach and Lloyd has looked as dangerous has they have always been, but it's their Spanish trio that could really be dangerous Wednesday by spreading the Thorns defense and giving the Flash chances on goal. The Thorns defense has been stellar this season, with a goals-against average of .667, and Angerer coming up big time and time again, but the Flash possess the weapons to give the Thorns' backline a busy night.
Thorns Keys to the Match
Finish - This will be a key for the Thorns until they can prove that their attack goes beyond Long and McDonald. Specifically, Sinclair needs to finish, and after finally admitting that it has become an area of frustration for her, maybe she will find her now long-missing shooting boots.
Avoid Giving up Set Pieces - Wambach has made a career of poaching goals, and there's no easier way to do it than off a corner kick or free kick near the box., where she has scored two of her three goals with her head, while Lloyd is well known for her shots from distance. While the Thorns can't afford to simply focus in on those two, by avoiding set pieces they can neutralize some of the danger they present.
Improved Midfield Play - As mentioned earlier, some of these players have their starting jobs on the line over the next couple of week, especially Sinead Farrelly and Angie Kerr in the midfield. While they are probably not going to be released when Vero Boquete and Tobin Heath arrive, they need to step up their play like they are and give the Thorns that missing link and creativity they need in their attack.
Portland Thorns vs. Western New York Flash
Wednesday May 21, 2014 at 7:00pm PDT
Providence Park - Portland, Oregon