The Portland Thorns (4-1-2, 14pts.) return to the pitch as they host Christie Rampone and Sky Blue FC at Providence Park on Saturday at 7:00pm.
The Thorns and Sky Blue have met once this season on April 19, a 1-1 draw that saw Rampone score her first professional goal off a free kick, while Allie Long scored a 75th minute penalty kick goal to bring the match level and Kelley O'Hara missed a penalty kick in 2nd half stoppage time that would have given her side the victory.
The Thorns come into this match off their most complete performance of the season, overrunning Western New York for much of the first half, with Long netting her 4th of the season in the 17th minute and Jessica McDonald adding her 5th in the 49th after a scramble in the box off a free kick. While the Flash were able to pull one back, the Thorns got their first regular season victory against Western New York.
The Thorns defense once again played a solid match, shutting down the Flash attack and allowing 8 shots on goal, with the lone blemish coming from McCall Zerboni's close-range shot that went past Nadine Angerer, who was once again spectacular in goal, holding up against a late flurry of attacks from Western New York as they looked to bring the match level.
The midfield and attack looked to be the strongest and most connected that they have been all season, especially in the first half when they had control of the match and put the Flash on their heels. Key to this play was the improved vision and passing of by Angie Kerr and Christine Sinclair pushing higher into the attack, which allowed her to have several solid opportunities, though she was unable to capitalize as Flash goalkeeper Kelsey Wys made several big stops against her.
The Thorns will need to keep up their attack against a solid Sky Blue defense. Goalkeeper Jill Loyden made several spectacular saves in their first meeting, but with a more connected offense and players fighting for their jobs, if the Thorns gets their chances it could be too much for the Sky Blue defense, who have shown signs of weakness this season, especially when put under pressure.
Sky Blue FC
Sky Blue comes into the match after a disappointing 3-3 draw with Washington, coming back from a goal down and then going up 3-1, only to lose the lead in second half stoppage time as Diana Matheson put a penalty kick past Loyden after a handball in the box. Jonelle Foligno, Katy Freels, and O'Hara had the goals for Sky Blue, all scored in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
Missing from Sky Blue is Australian defender Caitlin Foord and Japanese midfielder Nanase Kiryu, who are both competing for their countries in the AFC Women's Asian Cup in Vietnam. Additionally, they lost midfielder Taylor Lytle for the season after fracturing her tibia and tearing her meniscus on her left leg last week, leaving Sky Blue with three big holes to fill.
Though they are coming in off their highest offense output of the season, losing the match as they did has to be in the back of their minds, especially for a team that prides itself on their defensive prowess.
Moving past the disappointment of last match and taking the positives from the offense will be important for Sky Blue as they one of the league's toughest defenses. Against an offense that looks to be finally beginning to click, they have a challenge on their hands on both sides of the pitch and will probably look to pack their defense and take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.
The first meeting between Sky Blue and the Thorns was a story of two teams that couldn't quite get their offenses to click, with Sky Blue's goal off a corner kick and Portland's from a penalty kick.
This doesn't seem to be the case anymore, based on their last performances, with both sides having some of their highest scoring games of the season and the Thorns looking especially dangerous with Sinclair lurking up top and without some stellar saves from Wys, she would have at least her first goal of the year, though it isn't any easier with Loyden between the posts.
This will once again be a battle of a powerful offense from the Thorns versus a lockdown defense from Sky Blue. The series between these sides is even at 1-1-2, with only the Thorns' 3-1 victory last July being the only time thus far that a game between these two has been decided by more than a goal.
The biggest question for the Thorns may be whether or not Alex Morgan will be a part of the 18. Morgan, who has been training for the last month and fully participating in the training I observed on Tuesday, has been upgraded to Questionable for the first time this season, giving Paul Riley yet another option in the attack.
Thorns Keys to the Match
Finish - The Thorns continue to get chances and yet seem to be unable to capitalize on them. Against a defensive-minded team like Sky Blue, the chances may be few, so the Thorns will need to put them away.
Keep it up, Angie - Angie Kerr played her best match as a Thorn Wednesday, providing the key assist on Allie Long's goal and looking dangerous all night. A flummoxing player for many Thorns fans, she has at least given them a glimpse of what she can do and her team needs her to keep up this level of play.
Play the Full 90 - The Thorns were dominant at times Wednesday, but they still left chances for the Flash to find a way back into the match, first giving up the goal to Zerboni and then spending the last 15 minutes on their heels. Playing on two days rest means they'll need to be conserving energy for late in the match where they may otherwise experience a bit of a letdown.
Portland Thorns (4-1-2, 14pts.) vs. Sky Blue FC (1-3-4, 7pts)
Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 7:00pm PDT
Providence Park - Portland, OR