Portland Thorns FC advanced to the final of the Women’s International Champions Cup after a thrilling two-goal comeback. Natalia Kuikka and Olivia Moultrie each scored her first goal for the Thorns to erase the damage done by a Shea Groom brace. Shelby Hogan saved three penalties in the shootout, sending the Thorns to their second final of the season and the second hosted in Providence Park.
“At the beginning of the season when we were talking about the goals we had for this season, one of the things was ‘let’s win as many things as possible,’” said defender Becky Sauerbrunn in the Thorns’ media availability. “So winning the Challenge Cup, winning the ICC, winning the regular season, winning the championship, these are all things that we have set goals for and we want to win. Especially here at home, to be able to lift another trophy here would be really special.”
The Thorns will take the record seven-time champions of Europe, Olympique Lyonnais. Lyon advanced past FC Barcelona in a match that was tense and tightly contested. Both teams are in preseason and were missing key players, but this match didn’t seem like a preseason friendly.
Mariona Caldentey scored a brace but Amel Majri, Amandine Henry and Melvine Malard scored for Lyon as the French giants won the match 3-2. Despite Lyon winning, advancing, and playing well, Barcelona were the better side on the day. The Catalans were slightly off and were disappointed in their performance. If it weren’t for the incredible stops made by goalkeeper Christiane Endler, Barcelona would be playing in the final.
That is not to say Lyon don’t deserve to be in the final or that they didn’t play well. The French side did something the majority of teams have tried and failed to do — disrupt Barcelona’s dominance in possession.
Early in the match, Lyon pressed Barcelona high up the pitch in a 4-4-2. Lyon tried to force Barcelona wide and/or long and specifically tried to limit the service from the back to Patri Guijarro.
Guijarro was Barcelona’s deepest-lying midfielder, whose role was to pivot and provide service to Aitana Bonmati and Alexia Putellas higher in midfield. This forced center backs Mapi Leon and Irene Paredes into breaking the first line of pressure with the ball at their feet.
The Thorns should expect to face a similar defensive structure from Lyon. Henry repeatedly stepped to pressure and disrupt Guijarro and will likely do the same to the Thorns’ defensive midfielder. This will require Portland’s defenders to be hyper-vigilant when playing out of the back and be comfortable breaking Lyon’s first line of pressure with the ball at their feet.
Portland can also find success in build-up with good rotation in midfield. If the diamond stays connected and the Thorns midfielders are able to pull Lyon out of their desired shape with a responsible fluidity, then the Thorns could find success playing through Lyon as Barcelona did as the match progressed.
Barcelona’s and Lyon’s lack of precision and both teams’ pressure on the ball led to many dangerous transition opportunities for the other team. Portland need to be careful on the ball but they can also use their defensive pressure to turn Lyon over in their own final third. Barcelona did this repeatedly and it created their second goal.
Lyon sat in a compact 4-1-4-1 mid-block when they weren’t pressing. They packed the midfield and congested passing lanes through the center in an effort to prevent Putellas and Bonmati from dominating the match in midfield. Barcelona was still able to control the match and both Spanish midfielders found success and exposed the Lyon back line.
Putellas did so with her surgical passes but also with her late runs from midfield. She was often found in space and was able to advance to the final third and shoot or pass. Bonmati drifted wide down the right and linked up well with Caldentey. She played a great curling ball around and behind Wendie Renard to set up Caldentey’s first goal.
Barcelona exposed some weaknesses in Lyon’s defense, whether it was tracking secondary runners or the ability to deal with runs into space behind Lyon’s high line. Portland will need their forwards to make these probing runs. Similarly, the number ten and the eights should look to pick and choose their moments to get forward wisely because Barcelona showed how vulnerable Lyon could be to these runs.
Danielle van de Donk, who will soon be under the tutelage of Parsons, also caused danger with her late runs from midfield. She should have scored a least one goal in the match against Barcelona and continuously found space in between the midfield and defensive lines.
Majri moved the team forward well, connecting the defense, midfield and attack. She drove at the defense and danced by defenders before releasing players into space. Majri also caused trouble for the opposition in the box as she got on the end of Selma Bacha’s cross to tie things at one apiece against Barcelona.
Set pieces will also be key in this match. Henry scored off of a Lyon corner to make it 2-1 against Barcelona, and both Portland goals against Houston came from dead-ball situations. Renard and Henry pose a great threat from set pieces and the Thorns showed their ability to score from a corner or directly from a free kick.
Both teams have expressed their desire to win this title and will look to make that a reality tonight. If the Thorns are to secure their second trophy of the season at Providence Park they will need to play to their strengths, limit mistakes in possession, have more offensive influence from their fullbacks, and the finishing must be more clinical if they hope to beat Endler in net.
Lyon present a different challenge than what the Thorns are used to seeing. Coach Mark Parsons doesn’t believe that the French giants present a different tactical challenge but he does believe that the Thorns have not faced a team with as much quality and depth of quality as Lyon have.
Portland vs. Lyon is a match between two of the biggest global women’s soccer brands. They will clash on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. PST in Providence Park. It will be interesting to see how Parsons approaches this match based on his heavily rotated XI vs. the Dash. The Thorns’ Olympic players have returned and should at least be available for limited minutes.
If this tournament has taught us anything, the matches will be highly entertaining and the teams will be pushed to their limits. It is not the most prestigious title in the world, but the Americans hope to show their superiority to the European teams and vice versa. Lyon are looking to become the only team to win the WICC twice and Portland are trying to win their second title in Providence Park this year and their first WICC. It is a clash of powerhouses to determine who will come out as WICC Champions.
To learn more about Portland Thorns FC’s WICC final opponent make sure to check out the below preview that was published in the lead-up to the tournament.