Match Preview: Thorns at FC Kansas City (Round 2)

Will Jess McDonald give Nicole Barnhart fits again on Saturday? - Stacey Neve - Stumptown Footy

The Thorns and Blues meet for the only time in Kansas City this season.

The Portland Thorns (6-5-2, 20pts) hit the road once again, heading to Kansas City, Missouri to take on Lauren Holiday, Amy Rodriguez, and FC Kansas City (8-4-3, 27pts)  on Saturday, June 28 at 5:00pm PDT.

The Thorns and FC Kansas City have met once this season, as Jessica McDonald netted a brace in after goals in the 84th and 88th minutes in the Thorns home opener on April 26 to give the Thorns a 3-1 victory over their opponent in last season's semifinal.  These teams will meet again on July 13 to close out the season series.

Portland Thorns

All the momentum the Thorns had gathered after two consecutive victories over the Washington Spirit was quashed Wednesday, as the Thorns looked more lost and disconnected as they had all season, constantly missing passes and letting in two one set piece goals (CORRECTION: Freels goal was off a deep shot) that gave Sky Blue FC the 2-1 victory in yet another strange match against them at Providence Park.

The Thorns need to move quickly past that disappointment and look to their next opponent, a second place FC Kansas City side that seems to have shaken off much of their early season struggles and returned to their place as one of the top sides in the league, with reigning Golden Boot winner Holiday (5 goals) and the NWSL's 2nd leading goal scorer Rodriguez (9 goals) leading a KC attack that is sure to keep the Thorns' defense busy all night.

Playing their third match in a week, with national teamers Allie Long, Alex Morgan, and Christine Sinclair on their fourth match in about 10 days, head coach Paul Riley will likely look to rotate the squad once again, possibly bringing back the irregular 4-4-2 that saw them get 6 goals on Saturday, with Amber Brooks and Stephanie Catley moving back into the starting lineup to give them more defensive cover and putting Sarah Huffman back on the right, to help them generate a strong attack on that side of the pitch, where they struggled significantly with Emily Menges adapting to a more attacking-minded defensive position.

The Thorns attack looked stagnant most of the match Wednesday, and they face another team that has given them trouble in the past, though the overall series is an even 2-2-1, with the Thorns winners in their last two meetings.   The Thorns need to get the first goal; the stats don't lie in this regard.  When the Thorns score first, they are a perfect 6-0-0, so if they can get the first goal, they should be able to take control of the match, and the onus will likely fall on Long, McDonald, Morgan, and Vero to get this going, where Sinclair looking very hobbled after suffering an injury late in the match Wednesday.

FC Kansas City

The Blues are not the same team that came in on 1 point and mired in last place.  Since their loss to the Thorns, they have compiled a record of 8-2-2 and come in on a 7 match unbeaten run; winning 5 straight and only allowing 1 goal over this winning streak, while scoring 8 goals, with Holiday and Rodriguez leading their attack with 2 goals each.

The Blues moved into a new home in the offseason, moving from Shawnee Mission SD stadium to the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Durwood Stadium, a much smaller, but soccer-specific facility that seats around 3,100 and has a grass pitch, which is much preferable the hard turf they played on last season and without the embarrassing American Football lines.

Defensively, Kansas City looks to be a strong as they were last season, now that they have gotten comfortable together and are playing as a unit.  After allowing 7 goals in their first 3 matches, they have only allowed 10 in the 12 subsequent matches, including 6 shutouts over this time.  On the attack, Rodriguez starting the season off strong, but tailed off lately, but Holiday and others have picked up the slack, though they still only have 3 multi-goal scorers, with Tymrak joining Holiday and Rodriguez with 3 goals.

FC Kansas City have definitely found their form after some early season struggles and are now grinding out results as they continue to widen the gap between them and the rest of the pack, while remaining within striking distance of Seattle, but they have only had one run-away victory this season, a 4-0 victory over the expansion Houston Dash.  With 10 matches ending as either a draw or +/- 1 goal victory or loss, they are allowing teams to stay well into their matches, a tendency that could benefit the Thorns if the match is close late.

Final Thoughts

Heavy Thunderstorms are expected throughout the day Saturday, which will definitely create adverse conditions on the grass pitch in KC, while temperatures themselves are expected to be in the mid-to-upper 70s, a far cry from the heat and humidity of their last visit to KC in late August.  The rain will have a definitely impact if it rains heavily beforehand or during the match, as the ball slows significantly on grass (versus speeding up on turf), so the Thorns will need to adapt quickly if this is the case.

Sinclair's availability for this match will also have a major impact on this match.  She was moving very slowing after getting caught by Christie Rampone late in the match Wednesday, and it would be a surprise to see her make the start if she has not made a significant recovery.  If she can't go, expect McDonald to slot into the Starting XI, and then have Sinclair available off the bench, though if she is not available, the Thorns will be very thin at forward without both her and Mana Shim available at the position. UPDATE: Sinclair did not appear on this weekend's Injury Report.

Keys to the Match

Grab the First Goal - The Thorns are undefeated when they score first, with a perfect 6-0-0 record.  Simple as that.

Contain Holiday and Rodriguez - The Blues have scored 24 goals on the season, but 17 of them come from Holiday (5), Rodriguez (9), and Tymrak (3).  If they Thorns can keep them off the score sheet and force them to pass off to others, they have a greater chance of stopping their attack.and countering.

Connected Passing - The 2013 Thorns made an ugly re-appearance Wednesday, where they seemed unable to connect passes, especially on the right flank in the first half and reverted to a long-ball approach in the second half, an ugly brand of soccer if these passes don't connect, which they simply couldn't seem to do last time out, but when they did on Saturday, they got 6 goals out of it.

Match Information

Portland Thorns vs. FC Kansas City
Saturday June 28, 2014 at 5:00pm PDT
Durwood Stadium - Kansas City, Missouri
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