On Sunday afternoon, the Portland Thorns take on the Chicago Red Stars in a nationally televised game at JELD-WEN Field (4pm PT, FOX SOCCER, Freedom 970, presented by Coca-Cola). Check out the lowdown on the opposition.
What can the Thorns expect?
Chicago is the type of team who can hurt an opponent if they are not on top of their game, but they have a lot of areas that can be exposed. Scoring goals has been an issue with only seven of their 20 goals coming from their forwards as midfielders Leslie Osborne and Lori Chalupny have continually bailed them out in tight games. While it is a positive that their midfield is contributing with goals, it is puts even more pressure on the forwards to deliver.
It took Chicago quite a while to find a formula and line-up that suited them, which is highlighted in the fact that only Chalupny has played in every one of their games. The arrival of new faces, like Sonja Fuss and Inka Grings, has added strength to a roster that has missed star player Shannon Boxx for almost the entire season due to injury. Yet, they are still a team to be reckoned with once they shift into top gear.
Who are their main threats?
Usually set up in a 4-4-2 formation, Chicago is a team that relies on the energy and drive from its midfield to get them moving. Chalupny is one of the best around at providing that and it says a lot that she is the most fouled player in the league – always wreaking havoc. Osborne is another dynamic player, who can cut opposition teams open with her running, link-up play, and accurate passing. Both players are key to how Chicago plays and Cindy Parlow Cone will be aware of that.
Up front, they have improved massively over recent weeks. The partnership between Grings and Maribel Dominguez is starting to show promise, while Zakiya Bywaters and Ella Masar are solid options to call on too. It is all about trying to get service into those players, which has proved to be a problem so far this year because of Chalupny and Osborne being so eager to dominate with the ball, but also a lack of support when pushing forward.
Where are they most vulnerable?
Chicago hasn't always had the best luck in defending high balls, which is good news for Christine Sinclair, who can out-jump most opponents with her incredible spring. With the way that the Thorns have set up recently in their 4-3-3 system, they should be able to stretch Chicago when breaking forward on the counter attack and the forward runs of Alex Morgan and Danielle Foxhoven or Tiffany Weimer, while Sinclair’s ability to drop off will cause them huge headaches.
Head coach: Rory Dames
With time spent at St. Louis University and serving as director of coaching for the Eclipse Select Soccer Club, Dames knows all about soccer at various levels. Due to his Chicago roots, he possesses a strong knowledge of the local scene and its best players. So he was a natural fit to take charge of the Red Stars, who he previously coached in the WPSL and WPSL Elite.
Star Player: Inka Grings
This three-time Women’s German Footballer of the Year made the move to the NWSL in May and her arrival, alongside Sonja Fuss, has given Chicago a new lift. A proven scorer on the international stage – with 64 in 96 caps for Germany – and in the German Bundesliga, which she has won six times, Grings is an experienced forward who makes things happen.
One To Watch: Michelle Wenino
Part of the Chicago franchise back in 2009 when they were in the WPS, this Colorado native has since played in Germany, California and New Jersey before returning to the Windy City. The 26-year-old is a reliable defender, who can slot in anywhere across the backline and likes to get forward when she can, which is shown by her goal and assist this season.
What happened when the teams last met?
Having previously beaten Chicago 2-0 earlier in the season, the Thorns were defeated by the same scoreline when they met again at JELD-WEN Field at the beginning of June. Goals from Bywaters and Jackie Santacaterina did the damage, but it was very much an experimental line-up sent out by Parlow Cone with many regular starters away on international duty.
What did the Thorns learn from that game?
They learned a huge amount about some of the players who had not experienced much game-time and some of them stepped up with notable performances. It was a first start for forward Foxhoven and she registered two of the Thorns’ eight shots to force Chicago goalkeeper Taylor Vancil into making four saves. The work-rate of Becky Edwards, Courtney Wetzel and Allie Long in midfield was impressive.
In contrast, Chicago were able to hand starts to German pair Fuss and Grings, while Masar and Chalupny were constant threats. It was a game where the visitors took their chances – a goal coming in either half – but they stood up to the physical side of the game too and reminded the Thorns that there would be no inch given even though they were playing at home in front of 12,446 supporters.
What did the two camps have to say at the time?
Portland Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone
“I’m so proud of my team. They fought, they battled. I thought it was a difficult game due to some things outside of our control, but the players that played, that don’t usually play, stepped up and did a great job.”
Chicago Red Stars forward Inka Grings
“The whole team was willing to win. Portland is one of the strongest teams in the whole league. We think it was good that we won. We had more possession and we scored some nice goals.”
How has Chicago fared since then?
Chicago has played 10 games since beating the Thorns – winning five, losing three and drawing two. Most recently, they lost 4-1 to Seattle Reign on Thursday night in a game where they never really got going as Megan Rapinoe ripped them apart. Before that they had beaten Western New York Flash and Washington Spirit (twice), while also drawing with FC Kansas City.
Did You Know?
Chicago Lori Chalupny tops the lost for fouls committed with 32 free-kicks conceded in 16 games, which has resulted in her picking up three yellow cards.
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.