The Portland Thorns (9-7-6, 33pts) hit the road for the final time in the regular season, traveling to Allson, Massachusetts to take on the Boston Breakers (4-15-2, 14pts) from Harvard Stadium on Sunday at 3:30pm PDT.
The Thorns and Breakers have met twice this season, with the home side earning decisive victories. In their first meeting, the Breakers stunned the Thorns 4-1 on May 28, as Jazmine Reeves netted a hat-trick, while Christine Sinclair scored her first of the season. In their second meeting on July 20, Sinclair scored a hat-trick of her own, the first in team history, while Allie Long, Jessica McDonand, and Alex Morgan also scored, as the match started out back and forth, before the Thorns took over to start the second half.
The Thorns come in off another hard-fought meeting with the Houston Dash last Sunday, a 1-0 victory that saw Vero net the game-winner in the 54th minute and a earn her third NWSL Player of the Week Award, with Stephanie Catley once again provided a timely pass to earn an assist on the goal.
The Thorns defense also looked much improved in the match, as Rebecca Moros returned from injury to make the start at right back. While the Thorns looked stagnant in the attack in the first half as Catley and Moros held back in the first half, the second half was a different story, as Cately became an attacking threat, earning her 5th assist/ Toward the latter stages of the match the Dash pushed numbers forward to look for an equalizer, but that never came as the defense held firm to help goalkeeper Nadine Angerer earn her first clean sheet at home and third overall, all against the Dash.
The Thorns should come into the match feeling more rested, with a week break between matches instead of the hectic compressed schedule in July. Additionally, Rachel Van Hollebeke is expected to be available for this match after missing the 2nd half against Seattle and last week against the Dash with a concussion, though the Thorns will still be without Sinead Farrelly and Tobin Heath.
Meetings with the Breakers have been exciting this season for the home side, but the Thorns will need to reverse this trend if they want to avoid a date with the Reign in the first round of the playoffs. With the Spirit finishing level with the Reign Saturday, the Thorns know what they need out of this meeting with the Breakers, but they need a victory and the Spirit's loss leaving them a point out of third place and a date with FC Kansas City in two weeks.
The Breakers come into the match having lost two straight and are 2-9-2 since their first meeting with the Thorns in May 20, but have seen an offensive resurgence over the past few weeks, scoring 3 or more goals in 3 of their last 4 matches. Unfortunately for them, they have also allowed 15 goals over that stretch, including 2 goals in their loss weather-shortened loss to FC Kansas City on Wednesday.
Heather O'Reilly has picked up her scoring in this recent stretch, as she has scored 4 goals over their past 4 matches, while Kristie Mewis and Reeves have added 2 goals, Lianne Sanderson, Kathryn Schoefer, and Nikki Washington have all added goals in their recent matches as well.
The Breakers find themselves at the bottom of the league table, but they have a chance to pull themselves past the Dash with a series of favorable results. They have not looked like a team that is tanking to end the season and have nothing to play for but pride, but they also shouldn't be expected to simply let the Thorns run them over either. If their previous meetings are any indication, the Thorns and Breakers should be able to bring another entertaining match for the fans.
With two matches remaining on the year and the final one coming at home against the Reign, the Thorns need to get three points from this match to avoid a first round trip to Seattle. To do this though, they will need to solve their woes playing on narrow fields such as the one at Harvard Stadium. While it could simply be a coincidence, two of the Thorns biggest losses have come away at Boston and Seattle, both of which play on a much narrower pitch than the one at Providence Park, causing the midfield to become clogged and when this happens, the Thorns tend to revert to a long-ball approach, which has been less than successful for them on the year.
On paper, this should be an easy win for the Thorns, as the Breakers have allowed 51 goals on the year and they seemed to particularly have goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher's number in their last meeting, especially Sinclair, who had a hat-trick in just over 10 minutes to bookend halftime. The Thorns got some help from the Reign, as they drew the Spirit, but they will now need to do their part, especially with Seattle coming to town to close out the regular season next Sunday.
Thorns' Keys to the Match
Avoid the Long-ball - The Thorns' tendency to revert to long-ball on narrow fields has done little to help them this season. While the midfield will be cramped on the narrow pitch, the Thorns need to find a way to keep driving the ball up the field and out onto the wings rather than booting it over everyone and hoping that Morgan is onside and can find her way on the end of it.
Vero the Magician - On a team full of stars, Vero has simply been the brightest and most consistent player on the pitch. Even when the Thorns have struggled, Vero is always there looking to make plays and taking over the match and the Thorns will need another Player of the Week magician's performance out of her to bring the best out of the Thorns.
Solid Defense - The Thorns have struggled to keep Boston off the scoreboard, allowing 7 goals against to them in their previous two meeting, but they saw resurgence in their defense last weekend, shutting down a Dash side that went all in at the end of the match. The Breakers really have nothing to play for, so they may look to throw everything at the Thorns to put on a show for the home fans.
Portland Thorns at Boston Breakers
Sunday August 10, 2014 at 3:30pm PDT
Harvard Stadium - Allston, Massachusetts