The Portland Thorns (4-3-2, 14 pts.) return to the field after a 10 day break, welcoming the Western New York Flash (3-5-2, 11pts.) for their third and final meeting of the regular season Saturday at Providence Park.
The Thorns lead the season series 1-0-1, with Jessica McDonald scoring off a bobbled save to level the match after the Flash has taken the lead just a few minutes earlier and the match ended as a 1-1 draw. The second meeting, played a few weeks later in Portland saw the Thorns go up 2-0 off goals by Allie Long in the 17th minute and McDonald in the 49th minute. McCall Zerboni brought the Flash back a goal in the 57th minute, but the Flash wouldn't find another goal as the Thorns won 2-1.
The Thorns have had more than a week to analyze and move past whatever went wrong in Boston, and the general consensus of those interviewed at training was that it was just a "blip" for them, not indicative of anything other than a poor performance. The only bright spot was that Christine Sinclair finally found the back of the net in the 62nd minute for the first time this season.
The Thorns begin a new chapter in their first match in June. Alex Morgan is fully participating in training and appears to be ready for her first appearance, while defender Stephanie Catley and midfielder Vero Boquete joined the Thorns this week. Each of them brings an added dimension to an attack that has to this point struggled to put away the chances given to them.
The integration of the incoming players will have a big bearing on this match. Vero and Catley looked to be getting comfortable with their teammates, but it takes time to get used to the tendencies and intricacies of a new system and teammates, though Vero is familiar with Riley's system from their time together in WPS. The bigger question perhaps lies more in how the existing team will work with these new pieces. If all three start, this means that two players will be supplanted from their positions (Kat Tarr is suspended and it was announced Thursday will be out 4-6 weeks), and given the unique skill sets each player brings, things could click immediately, the team falls flat, or anything in between.
The Thorns are becoming more and more of a complete team and the infusion of three quality attacking-minded players should help the Thorns bring their attack alive, if just on reputation alone. A weakened Flash side gives the Thorns the perfect opportunity to show what they can do at nearly full strength.
Western New York Flash
Standing in their way is a struggling Flash side that is winless in 5 and playing their 3rd match in 8 days, traveling from Rochester to Kansas City and then to Portland, with losses to the Spirit, Thorns, Dash, and FC Kansas City over this stretch, while drawing Seattle. Additionally, they lost leading scorer Abby Wambach to a knee injury on Saturday, and she missed Wednesdays match, though the injury has been described as minor and an MRI revealed nothing significant. Update: Wambach is listed as Doubtful on the Injury Report.
Things just haven't gone right for the Flash over the past several weeks which led to Wambach calling out several teammates following their loss to Washington, which didn't appear to rally the team as it was probably hoped and after the match Saturday, Zerboni called her team's play "average," not exactly giving the appearance of team unity at this moment.
That said, the Flash remain a dangerous team. Despite potentially not having Wambach, they still have the ever-dangerous Carli Lloyd and the Spanish trio of Sonia Bermudez, Vicky Losada, and Adriana Martin, while Australians Sam Kerr and Lydia Williams have returned from international duty since the Flash last met the Thorns on May 21.
For the Flash, this probably couldn't be a worse time for a return trip to Portland. Lines will have trouble predicting the Thorns lineup when he sets his own. This sets up one of many potential parallels to the Thorns last match, where they travelled across the country on a few days' rest, a team in flux, and an unfriendly environment, but in this case instead of a terrible field, it comes from the ever-excitable Rose City Riveters helping create the atmosphere within the stadium.
It's make or break time for the Thorns if they want to stay within striking-distance of the top of the table. While everything seems to be stacking their way and the hype surrounding this match being the return of Morgan and debuts for Vero and Catley, the Thorns should have extra motivation to perform in this match. Couple that with Riley's belief that once Sinclair scored her first goal she simply won't stop, we should be in for a fun match Saturday.
The Flash are a wildcard going into Saturday, especially if Aaran Lines goes the Boston route and throws out an unexpected line up, which there is a good possibility of happening if they've truly hit desperation mode and players are gassed, but any player should be ready to go when their name is called.
Thorns Keys to the Match
Find Your Groove - The Thorns didn't even get a chance to take control in their last match, a point brought up in in post-training interviews this week. A tired, frustrated opponent provides the perfect opportunity to take control early and dictate the rest of the match.
Adapt - Changes are happen in all parts of the field for the Thorns, and 5 days of training is not enough for everyone to be completely on the same page since they still need to learn each other's tendencies, but they have had time to plan for this so Riley should have the them ready.
Finish - A key until it actually happens, to score goals you have to finish your opportunities. If this really is Thorns v2.0, then this will no longer be an issue for Portland.
Portland Thorns vs. Western New York Flash
Saturday, June 7, 2014 - 7:00pm PDT
Providence Park - Portland, Oregon