Portland stays on the road this Friday, heading to Boston for the first of a two-game series against the Breakers.
The Thorns should start the same group as last week: AD Franch in goal, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, and Celeste Boureille in the back, Lindsey Horan, Amandine Henry, and Allie Long at midfield, and Nadia Nadim, Christine Sinclair, and Hayley Raso at forward. With Tobin Heath, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Katherine Reynolds, and Mana Shim all still injured, the bench is thin—they're in Boston with a squad of just 15, according to the Oregonian. [Update: Allie Long is listed as “questionable” on the Thorns’ injury report.]
Portland's offense has lagged so far, with just two goals from the run of play in five games. If there's one factor to blame for that underperformance, it's Tobin Heath's stubborn back injury, but as I've noted again and again, it's not great that everything seems to hinge on one player. She's a very good player, but this roster is full of very good players, and they've got to figure out how to make things work without her.
I'm not convinced the Thorns' 4-3-3 is the way to go in Heath's absence. If they had her, they'd be deploying a formidable front three, with Heath on the left and Nadim on the right. But Raso and Mallory Weber just aren't serious all-around threats, and in the absence of a player with Heath's speed and creativity, Portland would be better served by having a fourth player—ie, Sinclair—in the midfield, which has been getting overwhelmed by teams like Seattle and North Carolina. Horan and Henry could sit deeper, Long and Sinc could link up in the attack, and Nadim and Raso could act more as pure strikers.
Really, this is a roundabout way of saying what I've been saying for weeks, which is that Long needs to be more involved in the attack.
However, nobody really cares what I think, and I'd be surprised if Parsons changed anything major in advance of this game. This setup can work, as it did in the second half against Seattle. All three midfielders have to be on top of their game, Sinc and Nadim have to be willing to track back, and Klingenberg has to be willing to get forward. She's had a couple nice offensive moments this season: she set up Allie Long's goal against Seattle, and last week, a crafty overlapping run forward drew FCKC's attention away from Nadim to open up a shot for her.
But of course, outside backs as wont to push forward as Kling is present a double-edged sword, in that they leave the defense exposed as soon as their team loses possession. For Boston, Rose Lavelle has been all over the pitch, including on the right wing, where a Kling-sized hole would be easy for her to exploit.
Speaking of Boston, which, after all, is why we're here: in case you haven't been paying attention, this is not the team Portland eviscerated 5-1 last season. They've won at home against Sky Blue and Seattle (who they absolutely thrashed, although Seattle looked pretty poor on the night), and against an offensively flimsy Portland in their second week on the road, the Breakers are certainly looking to do the same here.
Lavelle looks to be one of the biggest rising stars in the national team system, and although she's not the only danger the Breakers present—Canadian international Adriana Leon has been in excellent form, with a goal and two assists—she has been key to Boston's attack, and shutting her down will go a long way toward keeping them in check.
On the other end of the ball, Boston has been pretty stingy defensively, conceding just four goals so far. This looks to be a hard-fought match against a team that's got something to prove.
Watch it on: go90 (US), http://www.nwslsoccer.com/ (international)
Where: Jordan Field, Boston, MA
When: Friday, May 19 at 4:00 p.m. PT
Portland Thorns: 2-1-2, 3rd in the league, drew 0-0 at FC Kansas City
Boston Breakers: 2-2-1, 4th in the league, drew 1-1 at Chicago Red Stars