NWSL Match Preview: Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns FC at Yurcak Field - June 22, 2013

Thorns & Sky Blue FC to battle it out for top spot in the league on Saturday

Match Information
Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns FC
Date: Saturday, June 23, 2013
Kickoff: 4 p.m. (Pacific)
Location: Yurcak Field (Piscataway, N.J.)
Forecast: 82 degrees, partly cloudy
Webstream: www.portlandthornsfc.com

Tied atop the National Women’s Soccer League standings, Portland Thorns FC and Sky Blue FC meet for the second time this season. Thorns FC make their first trip to the East Coast to visit New Jersey based Sky Blue FC, and just its second trip into the Eastern time zone this season. Portland’s only other trip to the East Coast was May 4 when the team earned a 2-1 win over the Washington Spirit at Maryland SoccerPlex. Including Saturday’s match, four of Portland’s six remaining road games are on the East Coast (only games against FC Kansas City and Seattle are not). Sky Blue FC enter Saturday’s match after winning two of their last three matches. Coming off a 3-2 road win over Boston on June 16, Sky Blue FC had a five-game winning streak snapped on June 8 in a 3-0 home loss to the Western New York Flash. Both of Sky Blue FC’s losses this season have come at the hands of the Western New York Flash, while the loss on June 8 at Yurcak Field was the only time Sky Blue FC has been held scoreless this season.

Second-half substitute Taylor Lytle, who entered the match in the 79th minute in place of Portland-native Kendall Johnson, tallied the game-winning goal for Sky Blue FC with a strike from distance in the 80th minute as Sky Blue FC defeated Thorns FC 1-0 on May 16 before 11,055 fans at JELD-WEN FieldAlex Morgan and Christine Sinclair attempted nine of Portland’s 11 shots during the match against an organized Sky Blue FC defense. Portland goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc stopped five shots in the loss. Forward Lisa De Vanna attempted a team-high four shots for Sky Blue FC, while goalkeeper Brittany Cameron made five saves for the clean sheet.

Head coach Jim Gabarra’s squad has been successful on the field during the first half of the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season, winning eight of its 11 games and earning a tie atop the standings with Thorns FC. Guided by an organized defense with goalkeeper Brittany Cameron (0.90 goalsagainst average, five shutouts) commanding the back line, Sky Blue FC’s offense has arrived in the form of speedy Australian striker Lisa De Vanna (5 goals) and Canadian international midfielder Sophie Schmidt (5 goals). Australian defender Caitlin Foord and defender Courtney Goodson have played all 990 minutes of action for Sky Blue FC this season. Forward Danesha Adams (3g, 3a) and Taylor Lytle (3 goals) have chipped in on the offensive end. Sky Blue FC’s form on the road and at home has been solid this season as the team has earned a 5-1-0 record away from Piscataway, N.J., and a 3-1-1 mark at home.

Thorns FC players Alex Morgan, Rachel Buehler and Christine Sinclair return from international duty with the United States and Canada, respectively, for Saturday’s match against Sky Blue FC. For the United States, Morgan and Buehler (who wore the captain’s armband) each started and played 90 mintues in a 4-1 win over Korea Republic on June 15 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Morgan drew a penalty kick in second-half stoppage time and Abby Wambach converted the spot shot for her 156th career goal. On Thursday, Morgan assisted on Wambach’s world-record 160th goal in a 5-0 win over Korea Republic at Red Bull Areana. On Wednesday, Sinclair played 90 minutes for Canada in a 1-0 loss to Germany at Benteler Arena in Paderborn, Germany.

Thorns FC this week announced the signing of forward Tiffany Weimer and defender/midfielder Casey Ramirez from Danish club Fortuna Hjørring. Weimer, 29, finished the 2012/13 Danish Elitedivisionen season with a team-high 11 goals (14 in all competitions) as Fortuna came in second place. Ramirez, 23, and Weimer helped the club reach the Round of 16 in the 2012/13 UEFA Women’s Champions League tournament. A former standout at Penn State from 2002-05, Weimer finished her senior season in 2005 with 32 goals (second in the nation behind Thorns FC forward Christine Sinclair’s 39 goals). Ramirez played four years for Syracuse from 2008-11.

Thorns FC are the only remaining team in the NWSL with an undefeated record away from home. In five road games, Thorns FC have earned a 4-0-1 record while scoring eight goals and conceding just two. Portland has registered three of its five shutouts away from home.

The league leader in shots on goal, Thorns FC forward Alex Morgan ranks second in the percent of total shots put on goal as 24 of Morgan’s 37 shots (65 percent) have been on frame this season. Among players with more than 15 shots, Boston Breakers midfielder Heather O’Reilly ranks first as 14 of her 16 shots have been on goal (88 percent).

Thorns FC are 7-0-0 when scoring two or more goals this season. In seven of the team’s eight wins, Portland has tallied two or more goals, including a streak of four straight wins when scoring twice in a game (April 21-May 12). Portland is tied for the league lead with seven multi-goal games this season, the Western New York Flash also have seven multi-goal games.

Thorns FC forward Danielle Foxhoven has scored each of her three goals this season as a second-half substitute and ranks among leaders in the NWSL with a mark of 0.81 goals per 90 minutes (3 goals in 329 minutes played). Foxhoven has tallied a goal in back-to-back matches, scoring in the same minute (48th) of each game. Portland is 3-0-0 when Foxhoven scores a goal. Sky Blue FC has their own super sub in midfielder Taylor Lytle. The New Mexico native has scored three goals in 378 minutes, two of which have come as a substitute.

Thorns FC have allowed an NWSL-low three goals during the first half of games this season. In 11 games, Portland has held opponents to just one goal in the opening 15 minutes, while conceding two in the final 15 minutes of the first half. Thorns FC have not allowed a goal between the 16th and 30th minute in a match this season. On the road, Portland has only conceded two goals (one in each half). Thorns FC conceded a goal in the third minute of the league’s first-ever match on April 13 against FC Kansas City (a 1-1 draw), and an 86th-minute penalty kick in a 2-1 win at Washington (May 4). Portland has conceded a league-low nine goals in 11 games.

The NWSL and FOX Sports Media Group recently announced a national television broadcast schedule consisting of six regular-season matches and three playoff games. Portland Thorns FC are featured in consecutive weeks on FOX Soccer in regular-season home matches on Sunday, July 28, against the Chicago Red Stars and Sunday, Aug. 4, against FC Kansas City at JELDWEN Field. The times of those matches have been changed to accomodate national television. The match on July 28 is now at 4 p.m. (PT) and the game on Aug. 4 (a doubleheader with the Timbers Reserves) is at 5:30 p.m. (PT).