The Portland Thorns (7-6-5, 26pts) return to Providence Park, as they take on Heather O'Reilly, Lianne Sanderson, and the Boston Breakers (3-12-2, 11pts) on Sunday at 2:00pm PDT on ESPN2, the first match of the NWSL/ESPN broadcast partnership.
The Thorns and Breakers met earlier this season, a 4-1 Thorns loss on May 28, that saw Breakers forward Jazmine Reeves net a hat trick, while Christine Sinclair provided the lone goal for the Thorns for the shorthanded Thorns, after losing defender Kat Tarr to a first half Red Card. The Thorns and Breakers will close out their season series on August 10, as the Thorns travel once again to Allston, Massachusetts.
The Thorns opened up their last match with a bang, as Jessica McDonald scored her 10th of the season 33 seconds into the match, the earliest goal scored in NWSL history and the second consecutive match in which the Thorns have scored an early goal. Unfortunately for the Thorns, it wasn't a repeat performance against Chicago, as the Red Stars were able to overcome the initial shock of giving up a goal so quickly and eventually came back to level the match.
The quick-hitting approach is something the Thorns need to replicate against Boston, not only as an early way to take control of the match, but also to exploit a glaring weakness on the Breakers' part. Of the 8 fastest goals scored in NWSL history, 5 have come against the Breakers, 4 of them this season, including twice in their last 5 matches (6/22 vs. Sky Blue FC, 7/6 vs. FC Kansas City). Allie Long and Alex Morgan will be the freshest attackers for the Thorns, having played 20 and 24 minutes respectively against the Red Stars Thursday, as squad rotation will continue to play a major factor in this match.
The most important factor for the Thorns is to not overlook the Breakers, who sit at the bottom of the table, are on a 6 match winless streak, nearing the tail end of a 7 match road trip, and are winless on the road at 0-5-2, the classic set up for a trap game. With a nationally televised audience, the chanting of the Rose City Riveters, memories of their first meeting with the Breakers, and a squad looking increasingly more connected, it would be incredibly surprising to see Boston leave Portland with any points.
UPDATE - Rebecca Moros and Courtney Niemiec are listed as OUT; Tobin Heath is listed as DOUBTFUL; Sinead Farrelly listed as QUESTIONABLE on NWSL Injury Report.
The Breakers have not had the season they expected when everything kicked off in April. They have never been able to replace the attacking prowess of the traded Sydney Leroux (11 goals in 2013) and the loss of Australian international Kyah Simon to injury last October and are still struggling to put all the pieces together.
Taking out the 4 goal and 3 goal performance against the Thorns and Spirit , Boston is averaging just over a goal a match (16 goals/15 matches) and have been shut out 5 times this season, while allowing 37 goals. Reeves leads the Breakers in scoring, but has only managed 2 goals outside her hat trick against the Thorns, and O'Reilly and Lianne Sanderson both have 4 goals, while O'Reilly and Courtney Jones each have 3 assists.
The Breakers come in on a month-long road trip that has seen them go 0-3-2, but unlike the Thorns, they have not played since July 11, a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dash and are coming in rested, despite having to travel across the country for this match. The Breakers found success in beating the Thorns in their first meeting by throwing out completely new and unconventional line up that caught Portland off-guard and it will be interesting to see if Boston attempts this tactic again.
Which lineup will Paul Riley go with? This is probably the biggest question for the Thorns coming into this match, especially with yet another short week, with a match against the Spirit on Wednesday in Maryland and then their only visit to Seattle next Sunday, perhaps the most anticipated road match of the season for the Thorns. Given the players that Riley rested on Wednesday, it would not be surprising to see the Thorns run out a similar lineup to the one against Kansas City last Sunday, but perhaps seemingly forgotten players Angie Kerr, Courtney Niemiec, or Mana Shim getting time on the pitch against the league's weakest side.
The season has hit the home stretch. Every match matters greatly to the Thorns, especially matches like this one, which should be easily winnable. Unfortunately, these are the matches where the Thorns have surprisingly struggled this season, managing to defeat the Dash twice, but dropping matches twice at home to Sky Blue and the earlier meeting against the Breakers and the draw to Sky Blue in the second match of the season in meeting with the bottom 3 teams in the league. Those matches were (mostly) during the early season, Vero, Stephanie Catley, Morgan, and Rachel Van Hollebeke-less Thorns, and the Thorns must turn the corner and not play down to the level of their opponent.
Thorns Key to the Match
Quick Strike Offense - The Thorns have scored early in their past two matches, and the Breakers have a problem stopping early goals. A rested Long and Morgan could give the Boston defense fits if they lay on the pressure early and often.
Catley's Distribution - Catley has been working hard on her distribution from the left side since she arrived with the Thorns, and we've seen her send in perfectly placed balls to get the assist on Morgan's goal in the 15th minute against KC and McDonald's 33rd second goal against the Red Stars. It appears that Catley has become more acclimated to the play in the NWSL and she is finally showing Thorns' fans the play that has earned her so many awards in her young career.
Put on a Show - The NWSL and ESPN chose this match for a reason: they expect a spectacle. The Thorns were happily able to oblige last week, crushing Kansas City by half time and not quitting in the last 45. This match has the making of being something explosive, a culmination of all the pieces coming together at the right time for the Thorns, as long as they don't play down to or underestimate the Breakers.
Portland Thorns vs. Boston Breakers
Sunday July 20, 2014 at 2:00pm PDT
Providence Park - Portland, OR
TV/Streaming - ESPN2, WatchESPN