Thorns FC Opponent Dossier: FC Kansas City at JELD-WEN Field - June 6, 2013

After season opener against Portland, FC Kansas City has evolved into defensive powerhouse

Becky Sauerbrunn, FC Kansas City

Photo Credit: 
Photo: Thad Bell / FC Kansas City

The Portland Thorns will aim to get back to winning ways on Thursday night when they take on FC Kansas City for the second time this year (7:30pm PT, webstream: www.portlandthornsfc.com, Freedom 970). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.

What happened when the teams last met?
In what was the season opener – and also the first ever game of the NWSL – the Thorns fought back to earn a point in a 1-1 draw away to FC Kansas City. Christine Sinclair’s penalty on 67 minutes registered their first goal of the year and tied things up after Renae Cuellar had put the home team ahead after just three minutes.

It was a very open game with the Thorns defense caught out by a quick ball forward and Cuellar, a very capable striker, made no mistake. But the momentum swung towards Cindy Parlow Cone’s team and they fought to take all three points, Kansas City denied them.

What did the Thorns learn from that game?
The biggest thing that the Thorns took from that season opener was the need for communication. After a short preseason as well as national team allocated players arriving just before the opener, the Thorns had had little time to play as a full group. Kansas dictated the tempo and sliced through Portland early, however, as the game wore on Portland became stronger as a team as well as in the games that followed.

What did the coaches have to say?
Portland Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone
“I think we did okay, but overall, I don’t think any of (the players) are happy with how they performed. We knew there was going to be some miscommunication, a little bit of disorganization because you haven’t played together. I think we can improve on everything.”

FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski
“When you play against the two best forwards in the world (Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan) and keep them in check like we did, it is impressive. Buzz (Jen Buczkowski) and Desi Scott were given the task of preventing them from getting the ball and they did a tremendous job.”

How has Kansas fared since then?
It has been a mixed season so far for Kansas with only three wins collected from their six games played. While there is no reason to be concerned, they can still add a lot of things to their game to become a more dominant force as they have let some games slip away from them when they probably should have been celebrating victories – and that has stung a little for their players.

On the plus side, they boast the best defense in the league with only four goals conceded and that includes three clean sheets. The organization that they have, not just in the backline, but in midfield as well, was clear to see in their season opener against the Thorns and it has turned out to be their greatest asset. But they need to learn how to be more ruthless at the other end of the pitch.

KEY PERSONNEL

Head coach: Vlatko Andonovski
Originally from Macedonia, Andonovski has made his name as coach in the US, where he has been heavily involved in youth and indoor soccer. He has held director of coaching positions and used his experience of playing in Europe to compliment his coaching qualifications. Andonovski will be assisted by Welsh coach Huw Williams.

Star Player: Leigh Ann Robinson
Sometimes the most important players are the one’s who don’t grab all of the headlines and that is certainly the case for Robinson. She has plenty of experience of playing in the now defunct WPS and was an obvious pick-up when Kansas were putting their roster together because she brings the best out in her teammates. A very selfless player, Robinson covers a lot of ground in games – on both sides of the ball – and can be relied on when the going gets tough.

One To Watch: Kristen Mewis
Undoubtedly, one of the most exciting players in the league right now, this 22-year-old midfielder has been tipped to emerge as a long-serving member of the United States national team. Crafty with the ball at her feet, confident in her ability, and incredibly hard-working, the Massachusetts native is a real livewire for Kansas and is bound to only get better. It was hardly surprising when she was selected third overall in the NWSL College Draft.

TACTICAL VIEW

What can the Thorns expect?
A lot depends on the line-up that Kansas selects, but they have tended to stick with the 4-5-1 formation that they used against the Thorns back in April. Key to that system working is striker Cuellar, who makes clever runs off the ball and chases down opposition defenders – in a way, she is the first line of defense. Behind her, the rest of the team is very solid, compact and they work for each other.

Between the posts, United States international Nicole Barnhart has been a rock, while the likes of Robinson and Becky Sauerbrunn (above) have been excellent in defense. But this is a team where the team is the most important thing. Yes, they have talented players, but collectively, they work so well together with the outside midfielders tracking back, the central players closing up gaps, and the defense communicating well with each other.

Who are their main threats?
Cuellar is the one to keep a close eye as the Thorns discovered when she scored so early on in their last meeting. But she can only thrive when supplied with good service and that is where the likes of Mewis, Desiree Scott, and Lauren Cheney come in, because they are technically very good soccer players and they can string passes together or split a defense open if afforded enough space.

In their last outing – a narrow defeat to Sky Blue FC – Kansas registered 13 shots on goal and taking aim from distance is something that they will try to do against the Thorns. Cheney, in particular, is someone who can smash the ball past any goalkeeper if she drifts into space and gets the time to unload. And they will also be dangerous from set pieces, so Thorns marking needs to be tight.

Where are they most vulnerable?
The trick to unlocking a team that plays in such a compact fashion is stretching them and dragging them out of position. The running of Nikki Washington and Danielle Foxhoven could be exactly what the Thorns need to lure the Kansas players away from their comfort zones and expose gaps in behind them. If they can do that, then Cone’s team has the speed to swoop in and take advantage.

Kansas has been known to surrender possession of the ball a bit too easily. Sometimes they are too eager to push it forward, trying to create an opening, or simply take the wrong option. When they do that, the Thorns can pounce and counter attack at speed.

Did You Know?
Midfielder Desiree Scott is very active in coaching despite only being 25 years old and yet to hit the peak years of her career. She regularly runs soccer camps and clinics, while also helped out as an assistant during her time at the University of Manitoba.

Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandThornsFC.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.