The Portland Thorns (2-1-2, 8pts) hit the road once again to take on the Houston Dash (1-4-0, 3pts) at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas.
The Thorns and expansion Dash met in the season opener April 12 in Houston, with the Thorns getting a late goal from Allie Long off a long throw-in by Jessica McDonald to give them a 1-0 victory to open their season.
The Thorns come into this match off a strong, yet disappointing result, as they gave up an 89th minute goal to the Seattle Reign, giving them their first loss of the season. The result dropped them from 2nd to 4th on the NWSL table.
The Thorns nearly came out of the match with a scoreless draw, playing lockdown defense throughout the match neutralizing the ever-dangerous Sydney Leroux and stopping the Reign's direct attack, but a late defensive error by both Nadine Angerer and Rebecca Moros gave the Reign the only chance they needed to pull out the win. Regardless of the result, for the first 89 minutes, the Thorns defense stopped the league's top attack, giving them few dangerous opportunities, with Angerer.
Coming into the match using a 4-3-2-1 formation, the Thorns midfield and attack looked to be truly dangerous for the first time all season, especially in the second half, connecting with each other and transitioning from defense to offense. Unfortunately, finishing remained a problem for the Thorns, as they flubbed several opportunities that they should have put away, but found themselves off frame or controlled by Hope Solo.
The Thorns will need to move beyond the disappointment of dropping a game the way they did and look to overpower a struggling Houston side. With the Dash not presenting the weapons that Seattle did, the Thorns can commit more to their attack and hopefully will be able to take control of the match early and find their offensive rhythm and shooting boots, which that have not had for most of the season.
Aside from an offensive outburst in their April 20 match against Boston, the Dash have been held off the score sheet in every other match this season, facing the struggles that every new team endures. In their last match, delayed 3 hours by severe storms and a tornado warning moving through the Chicagoland area, the Dash fell 1-0 to Chicago, as Jen Hoy gave the Red Stars the win with a 33rd minute goal off a Vanessa DiBernardo free kick.
The Dash are very much a team looking for an identity while head coach Randy Waldrum looks to continue to build his squad. The Dash lost Brittany Bock following the first meeting with the Thorns to a season-ending injury, while also trading former Thorn Nikki Washington to Boston for Canadian midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, and adding Austrian international Nina Burger, who gives them a very dangerous weapon, as she scored 226 goals during her 9 year stay with Austrian side SV Neulengbach.
Unfortunately for the Dash, they lost starting goalkeeper Erin McLeod to a right hip injury in their last match and United States allocations Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg have still yet to join the team and will not until the completion of the European calendar. McLeod's status for this match is currently unknown, but the Dash have a more than capable backup in Bianca Henninger who can once again step in if needed.
Key for the Dash will be to get something resembling an attack going. It has been nearly a month since the Dash scored their only goals of the season, as the frustration for the team has become more and more evident as the season has gone on. Ella Masar and Teresa Noyola, along with Burger provides a dangerous trio for the Dash, but beat the Thorns' defense and Angerer is more easily said than done.
This is a match that both teams desperately need to win. For the Thorns, they need to keep pace with the other teams in the league before the big guns arrive, while Houston just needs to get some kind of result to get back on track.
The Dash proved to the Thorns in their first meeting that they are a team that cannot be taken lightly, even with their struggles this season. The Thorns defense has only gotten stronger as every match, allowing less than a goal a match, which has given the Thorns more freedom to move the ball forward from the back, with the outside back providing width while Amber Brooks has stated to become on offensive threat as well, moving into the attack in the second half against Seattle.
Another interesting match up to look at will be Masar versus Angerer. In their first meeting, Masar showed no fear going at the German net minder on more than one occasion, eventually earning a yellow card for a challenge late in the match. Angerer no doubt remembers this, and while neither she nor Masar is unlikely to alter their play, it is something to look out for in this match.
Thorns Keys to the Match
Forget about Seattle - Losing the way they did had to be frustrating, but the common theme following that match was that they just needed to forget it and move on. Having this match come up so quickly didn't give them much time to dwell on the past and they should be able to move on from the last minutes and find strength in how well they played most of the match.
Build up the Attack - The Thorns have shown at time that they can play a possession-based attacking style, but this has only come in short spurts. This match provides them the opportunity to implement this system and they should be able to find success against a weakened Houston side, but they will have to take control early to have the most success.
Finish - This has been a problem all season for the Thorns. With only two goal scorers on the year, others need to step it up, especially Christine Sinclair, who just seems to be a bit off with her final touch. Long and McDonald have carried them thus far, but with the points gap widening, the Thorns cannot afford to squander opportunities until the international and injured players arrive.
Portland Thorns (2-1-2, 8pts) at Houston Dash (1-4-0, 3pts)
Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 5:00pm PDT
BBVA Compass Stadium - Houston, Texas
TV - Comcast SportsNet NW