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Storylines: Portland Thorns at Chicago Red Stars

A major early test for the team

Nikita Taparia

With their first victory under their belt, the Portland Thorns (1-0-0) travel to Chicago from the East Coast for the second leg of their away tour. The Pride was a nice warm-up to ease everyone back in, but playing away at Chicago will be the first real yardstick for determining where this squad really is. The Chicago Red Stars (0-0-1) are a real playoff contender — and with the best player in the world at striker. They executed a fantastic game plan away at the North Carolina Courage to steal a point, and head coach, Rory Dames, no doubt has something up his sleeve for Portland as well.

Chicago will likely give a home debut to its new custom-designed jersey, which is selling pretty well.

Projected XI

Once again, it’s a mostly complete roster expected for the Thorns. There was some question last week about whether Katherine Reynolds was going to be 90-minutes fit, but not only did she complete the game, she looked in excellent condition while at it. With Emily Menges still out, there’s no question that Reynolds has the second center back spot locked up.

Midge Purce, on the other hand, has traveled with the team and could see her first minutes of the season off the bench. Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic will likely start at right wing in the meantime. All the front three have been pretty fluid over the course of the first few games, but Caitlin Foord appears to be the primary striker for the time being, so our tactical lineup has changed to reflect this.

Game Plan

So you’re playing against a team that has Sam Kerr. What to do? Well, although defending against Alex Morgan last week was made easier by her coach demanding that she frequently drop deep into midfield, the basic theory is similar: Deny her the ball. If she does get the ball, then get defense in deep to deny the shot.

As before, this starts with dominating in midfield. With Vanessa DiBernardo still recovering from a long-term injury and playing limited minutes; Nikki Stanton seems likely to start in midfield alongside Julie Ertz and Danielle Colaprico. That’s an active and physical midfield who won’t be afraid of trying to win balls anywhere on the field — and who will quickly pounce if anyone in the Thorns midfield makes a mistake or gets isolated.

Once won, the Red Stars will be moving quickly upfield to get Kerr dribbling against defenders, which is where she’s most dangerous. It’s imperative that the Thorns are less careless with the ball than they looked at times against Orlando. The high-press the Thorns showed off against the Pride seems a little less likely to be sustained against the Red Stars as well: Alyssa Naeher, despite a brief experiment in past seasons with putting the ball at her feet, prefers to get the ball upfield quickly.

Maybe the most interesting match-up to watch will be Celeste Boureille up against Yuki Nagasato. Teammates in the W-League at Brisbane Roar, they will be in direct conflict during this game. Nagasato — in theory — is a left winger, but will consistently drift centrally in possession to make things happen. Both have somewhat similar weaknesses, but Nagasato’s passing and cleverness on the ball with be in contest to Boureille’s defensive prowess and knack for making timely interceptions.

The aspect that has the potential to make the Red Stars into truly great team, however, is their fullbacks: Casey Short was out last game, but has had some particularly memorable (and physical) match-ups against Tobin Heath. Katie Bowen, Short’s likely replacement should she still be unavailable, is someone Heath can dribble down all day. On the other end, Arin Wright has the engine to get downfield all game, and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic’s defensive ability down the flank is going to be essential to keeping her busy.