Back at JELD-WEN Field on Sunday afternoon, the Portland Thorns face off against NWSL leaders FC Kansas City (5:30pm PT, FOX Soccer / Freedom 970). Find out all you need to know about the opposition.
What can the Thorns expect?
Kansas has led the season for so long because they are a very disciplined, yet talented team. With strength in every position, they utilize their options well by moving forward and back as a unit – one which focuses on shifting the ball quickly, prying open opposition backlines with their movement, and being clever when in possession of the ball. Nothing is rushed about this team, they know how they want to play and have the confidence to execute it to perfection.
Who are their main threats?
Leading the team with goals (10) and assists (7), Lauren Holiday (neé Cheney) is clearly the most affective player on Kansas’ roster. A playmaking tour de force, she is someone who brings the best out in those around her and punishes an opposition defense before they even have time to prepare for her. As good as she is finishing off chances, Holiday also sets up chances for her teammates and helps Kansas drive on as a team.
The best teams never stand still and keep one eye on improvement. So it was hardly surprising when Kansas traded Renae Cuellar to Seattle Reign in exchange for Teresa Noyola to boost their forward department. While Cuellar is an exciting prospect, head coach Vlatko Andonovski felt that he was getting an upgrade in Noyola and she adds more depth to an attacking base that also includes Erika Tymrak, Courtney Jones and Melissa Henderson.
Where are they most vulnerable?
Sometimes it can be difficult to identify a weakness in a team sitting at the top of the table, because they are usually in that position for striking the right balance with their defense and offense. But, if one looks a little closer, there are ways that the Thorns can get in behind them and one of those is by stretching their 4-4-2 formation out wide and having runners get in behind their outside backs to get crosses into the penalty area or make angled runs.
Also, only six different players have scored for Kansas this season compared to eight for the Thorns, so the goal threats are pretty obvious – mainly Holiday and Tymrak – and if they are marked closely, then the Thorns can counter. They are strong defensively, but getting past their midfield can allow Cindy Parlow Cone’s team to unload shots on goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart and profit from any loose balls or direct crosses.
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: Nicole Banhart
Known as ‘Barnie’, this experienced goalkeeper has missed only two of Kansas’ games this season and has been a dependable presence between the posts for them. A superb shot-stopper, the United States Women’s international also positions herself well to deal with danger and to react once the ball gets beyond the defense in front of her. She is the type of keeper that any team would like in their side.
One To Watch: Erika Tymrak
With a return of six goals this season, Tymrak has emerged as one of the league’s most dangerous forwards. The 21-year-old was the 11th overall pick in the NWSL College Draft after standing out during her time at the University of Florida and has wasted little time in adapting to such a high level. Able to sneak beyond her marker before they even know that she has moved, Tymrak is a superb finisher when in front of goal.
What happened when the teams last met?
Three times the Portland Thorns have squared off with Kansas with three different results coming out. In the season opener, it was a 1-1 tie, then the Thorns won 4-3 on June 6 before Kansas claimed a 2-0 triumph on June 30. In that last game, a goal in either half from Lauren Holiday and Merritt Mathias made the difference despite the Thorns hitting the target with five of their eight shots on goal.
What did the Thorns learn from that game?
The Thorns learned that nothing lasts forever as their shutout streak on the road ended at 284 minutes when Holiday fired in. While they did a lot of things right throughout the game, there was noticeable areas that needed to be addressed, like keeping tabs on Holiday, who unleashed four shots on goal and goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc was forced into making four saves.
Defensively, FC KC are compact and organized. In midfield, they work hard and create a huge amount of chances. And, up front, they are lethal despite not having world-renowned finishers on their roster. Altogether, they are a very well-drilled team that plays for each other.
What did the two camps have to say at the time?
Portland Thorns forward Alex Morgan
“Defensively, Kansas City is a great team. I think that we’re being a little bit too conservative. We need to come out with more energy and just a little bit more aggression.”
FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski
“Every win is a big win, but the closer we come to the end of the season, we realize how important every game is and how big every win is. This win is a big confidence builder for us and shows that we can compete with every team in this league.”
How has Kansas fared since then?
NWSL leaders Kansas have won three and tied three games since last facing the Thorns. Andonovski’s team have not tasted defeat since falling 3-1 at home to Chicago Red Stars in mid-June, which makes it nine unbeaten for a side who has scored 30 goals and conceded just 17 from 19 games played. It’s pretty safe to suggest that they are worthy leaders.
Did You Know?
FC Kansas City forward Teresa Noyola became the third consecutive player from Stanford University to win the Hermann Trophy when she followed in the footsteps of Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press in 2011.
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.