The Thorns travel to Piscataway, New Jersey this Saturday to face Sky Blue FC. It's the first of another two-game away/home series, with the Thorns again getting the privilege of
Portland will start what's become their usual XI: Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, and Celeste Boureille in the back, Allie Long, Amandine Henry, and Lindsey Horan in the midfield, and Hayley Raso, Christine Sinclair, and Nadia Nadim at forward. Dagny Brynjarsdottir, at last, is likely to be available off the bench; Tobin Heath will travel to New Jersey but probably won't see minutes.
In terms how how Sky Blue is shaping up, they're a point ahead of Portland in the standings, but with three losses to Portland's one. On the other hand, they're perfect at home this season.
Last week, they beat Orlando at home, but the Pride didn't put up much of a fight. Sky Blue's first goal came thanks to a bad turnover in Orlando's defensive third, followed by a moment of bafflingly poor defensive organization where Sam Kerr—yes, the Sam Kerr you're thinking of—was left unmarked by Alanna Kennedy.
While we're on the topic of poor defense, it should also be said that Orlando's goal was a result of some mismanagement by Sky Blue, where an unmarked Jasmyne Spencer received a short slipped pass from an unpressured Camila.
Zooming out, like many NWSL teams, Sky Blue has had an up-and-down season, looking like a dangerous attacking unit one game, then somewhat disjointed the next. Sam Kerr is a one-woman artillery unit who can sneak into dangerous areas and create chances from nothing. Raquel Rodriguez is a force in the midfield, both as a playmaker and a scorer. All in all, this is a scrappy young team that, while sometimes prone to error, is dangerous going forward.
Sky Blue's starting lineup has undergone considerable rotation recently, especially over the course of the brutal three-game week they were just subjected to, where they played Houston on Saturday, then flew to North Carolina on Wednesday, then came home to face Orlando the following Saturday. This weekend, the back line is probably set: Christie Pearce and Mandy Freeman at center-back, and Erin Simon and Erica Skroski flanking them on the left and right, respectively.
Further up on the pitch, things are less set in stone. Christy Holly's preferred formation is a 4-2-3-1 with Sarah Killion and Nikki Stanton at defensive midfield, Kerr up top, and some combination of Leah Galton, Rodriguez, Kelley O'Hara, and Daphne Corboz making up the attacking midfield trio. Assuming O'Hara is available—and it's not clear if she will be—she and Rodriguez will definitely be in that mix. Corboz and Galton are probably a tossup for the third slot.
Also, Tasha Kai seems to be back in training after undergoing double ankle surgeries over the offseason—although even if she's available she's not likely to get the start.
So: what does all this mean for the Thorns?
Defensively, Portland needs to keep an eye on Rodriguez. If they can shut her down, they can isolate Kerr up top and force her to do her own work.
On the other end of the pitch, the Thorns can build on last week and exploit an at-times shaky Sky Blue defense. Despite being a point ahead of the Thorns, they've conceded eleven goals this season.
Pearce, the normally stalwart central defender, hasn't been in great form recently. She's had a couple of bad turnovers in recent games, and has shown an unwillingness to step to attacking players even with plenty of backup behind her. It's not hard to imagine Henry taking the same shot Lynn Williams took for a goal last Wednesday, or Allie Long exploiting the hole she left for Camila to slip a final pass through.
Watch it on: go90 (US), http://www.nwslsoccer.com/ (international)
Where: Yurcak Field, Piscataway, NJ
When: Saturday, June 3 at 4:00 p.m. PT
Portland Thorns: 3-1-3 (W-L-T), 5th in the league, won 2-0 vs Boston Breakers
Sky Blue FC: 4-3-1, 3rd in the league, won 2-1 vs Orlando Pride