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Storylines: Portland Thorns vs Sky Blue FC

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The last opportunity this year for the Thorns to take points off a historically bad team.

Hayley Raso at Yurcak Field, the place where she regained her top form.
Anya Button

The Portland Thorns (9-6-6) host Sky Blue FC (0-5-14) in the second of three games this week for the Thorns as they seek to solidify their playoff place. Sky Blue, on course to have the worst points total of any team in American women’s professional soccer history, come into the game with their pride on the line. They’ve run the Thorns close in both of their previous meetings, most notably stealing a 1-1 draw on their last visit to Providence Park. The Thorns will have to be at high levels of focus to put them away.

Projected Starting XI

The lineup is more or less settled at this point. Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic and Hayley Raso take turns up top with Tobin Heath alternately swinging out wide and inside. Christine Sinclair drops between the lines looking for space to keep the offense moving. Lindsey Horan has free reign to run the offense or cover on defense. Celeste Boureille mops up and drops into defense if necessary. Emilies Sonnett and Menges are the centerbacks, with Sonnett winning the ball high and Menges covering. Ellie Carpenter sits back in defense and will charge upfield if given space, where Meghan Klingenberg pushes up and acts as almost a second left winger.

That’s not to say a change is out of the question, given the shortened schedule. Midge Purce appears to be second choice to Ellie Carpenter at right back for the moment but could come in the team for her, and would be especially effective against defenders who come high up the field. After Andressinha and Caitlin Foord’s game changing performances off the bench last Saturday against the Chicago Red Stars, it’s not impossible that the two could see increased time, especially as Foord is nearing full fitness.

Scouting the Opposition

No team goes 19 games without a win on accident, but Sky Blue have been undeniably unlucky in recent weeks, no more so than in a 2-2 draw against the Utah Royals in which they led for most of the game only to be denied by an equalizer late in stoppage time. Sky Blue players hit the floor when the whistle blew as if they had lost a cup final. The team clearly knows about their situation and are desperate to finish the season with a win. Head coach Denise Reddy had persisted with an attacking 4-3-3 packed full of forwards for most of the season but her decision to play a 4-4-2, dropping Savannah McCaskill to right midfielder, has proven itself far better suited to the team’s strengths. Carli Lloyd has been given rein to do whatever she wants as one of the two players up top but Mexican international Katie Johnson has been the one impressing in front of goal, her two goals last game taking her to four on the season. Shea Groom, who got a concussion scoring against Orlando, could be in line to return. The defense remains the main question for this team: Rebekah Stott is still on the injury list and Mandy Freeman remains questionable.

Gameplan

The Thorns have already dropped two points to Sky Blue so far this season, and they can’t afford to lose any here as the playoff run in comes to a conclusion. Sky Blue can be pulled out of position defensively but even down defenders, they have good recovery speed. Players can’t be lulled into thinking they have extra time on the ball or risk getting the ball taken off their feet. Meghan Klingenberg has the most difficult defensive assignment of the night in Savannah McCaskill, and as she will be play deeper in midfield, Menges can’t risk coming over to help. Either Boureille or Horan will probably be tasked with tracking her to allow Klingenberg to push forward, and if she can repeatedly get to the byline, it’ll be worth it.