Match Preview: Thorns vs. Washington Spirit

Vero's role will be key to the Thorns' success. - Stacey Neve - Stumptown Footy

The Thorns and Spirit meet in the first meeting of an home and home.

The Portland Thorns (4-4-2, 14pts.) look to get off their three match losing skid when they host the Washington Spirit (6-5-1, 19pts.) on Sunday, June 15 at 2:00pm PDT at Providence Park.

This match is the first of three meetings against the Spirit this season, and the only meeting in Portland.  The Thorns and Spirit will meet again Saturday and July 23 at the Maryland SoccerPlex.  The Thorns are undefeated against the Spirit in two meetings, with 2-1 and 2-0 victories over Washington in May 2013.

Portland Thorns

Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong once again for the Thorns last Saturday against Western New York.  Despite the debuts of Vero, Stephanie Catley, Alex Morgan, and Rachel Van Hollebeke, the expected indomitable force that the Thorns were supposed to be, they became the dominated, suffering their worst loss ever and lost goalkeeper Nadine Angerer in a controversial Red Card decision.

As soon as it looked like the Thorns had their full team, they were gone.  Thorns find themselves with a depleted line up, as Allie Long, Morgan, Van Hollebeke, and missing international Tobin Heath with the United States, Christine Sinclair with Canada, Nadine Angerer with Germany, and Kat Tarr recovering from surgery.  The Thorns once again find themselves playing 14 rostered players, though they did call up defenders Michelle Cruz and Carlie Davis, goalkeeper Cris Lewis, and forward Hanna Terry from the amateur ranks for this match.

Defensively, the Thorns have been a mess, allowing 9 goals in their past two matches after only allowing 6 through their first 8. Losing a defensive starter in each of these matches, they have allowed 6 goals after each Red Card, 2 against Boston and 4 against Western New York, including 3 to the Flash when playing with three in the back after losing Angerer and subbing off Courtney Niemiec for Michelle Betos for the final 17 minutes in that match, where they allowed 3 goals.

Offensively, the Thorns haven’t been much better, continuing to look disconnected in the final third and only scoring one goal in their past three matches, as Christine Sinclair finally broke her goalless streak against Boston.  Sunday, the Thorns find themselves playing without three of their top attacking players, but will still have leading goal scorer Jessica McDonald up top, Spainish maestro in the midfield, and Catley attacking out of the back, so the Thorns are not completely depleted in the attack, just lacking their usual star power.

Washington Spirit

The Spirit were on a 5 match winning streak prior to their midweek meeting with the Boston Breakers, which ended in a 2:0 defeat.  Currently sitting in third place after finishing last in 2013, the Spirit have been one of the surprise teams so far this season.

Just like the Thorns, the Spirit find themselves depleted by international call ups, losing starting goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and defender Ali Krieger to the United States, defender Robyn Gayle and midfielder Diana Matheson to Canada, as well as top overall draft pick Crystal Dunn to recurring injuries.  The Spirit have also lost Caroline Miller, Toni Pressley, and former Thorn Tiffany Weimer to injuries this season.

Offensively, Washington will miss the pesky Matheson and her 5 goals, but will still have leading goal scorer Jodie Taylor, as well as the speedy duo of Danesha Adams and Renee Cuellar, and Christine Nairn, who has tallied 3 goals on the year, while United States international pool players Yael Averbuch and Lori Lindsey have started nearly every match this season.

Defensively, Tori Huster and Bianca Sierra are the only regular starters available for this match, while goalkeeper Chantel Jones will make her second appearance this season between the posts and made 5 starts for the Spirit last season.

Final Thoughts

Prepare for another strange one.  The Thorns will once again be throwing out a different line up this match, and for the first time this year without Nadine Angerer or Christine Sinclair available, and while Betos may end up being the only player making their first start of the season, it is yet again a lineup in flux.  The Thorns will have to find a way to solidify their defense against a weakened, but still dangerous attack and Nikki Marshall will need to take a vocal leadership role in organizing the backline, a task usually left to Angerer, which was blatantly apparent until Van Hollebeke subbed on at the half.

Formation-wise, it seems unlikely that we will see that 4-3-3 for a long time, but a 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 is a distinct possibility. McDonald could line up as the lone striker, with Vero in the center of the midfield and flanked by a combination of Farrelly, Kerr, and Shim, with a combination of Amber Brooks, Rebecca Moros, and Sarah Huffman lining up in defensive midfield.  Either of those formations would seem to make the most sense for the Thorns, with their glut of midfielders and lack of forward depth coming into this match, and Riley’s lack of confidence in Jackie Acevedo, who hasn’t made an appearance in two months and would probably be more useful as a sub given her lack of appearances.

Thorns Keys to the Match

Step up on Defense – Someone needs to take a leadership role on the defense, and that needs to be from Nikki Marshall, the most senior player on the backline, as she is flanked by a 20 year-old and a pair of 22 year-old rookies, who have shown their youth and inexperience in recent matches.  Marshall needs to take charge from the start and bring the organization that has been lacking, especially with the weapons the Spirit possess.

Play Through the Midfield – If the Thorns bring out either of the formations mentioned above, lofting the ball over the midfield to the forward line will lead to a fruitless attack, as McDonald cannot take on a whole line of defenders by herself.  The Thorns will need the vision and passing from both Vero and Kerr in this match to bring the ball up and distribute up top and on the flanks, but will also need to expect that the Spirit will be looking for this tactic as well and try to press and break it, especially when Vero has the ball.

Feed to McDonald – Playing McDonald out wide was an unmitigated disaster last weekend, but she will be back in her more natural target role.  While she possesses pace, a high work-rate, and the physicality to take on defender on the break, she is better served to have the ball fed to her in the box and cleaning up mistakes by the opponent’s defense versus creating her own chances. She’ll need help in the attack, both from a distribution and attacking standpoint or she’ll be surrounded by defenders all afternoon.

Match Information

Portland Thorns vs. Washington Spirit

Sunday, June 15, 2014 at 2:00pm PDT

Providence Park – Portland, Oregon

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