The Portland Thorns set Dilboy Stadium as their destination as they prepare to face the Boston Breakers on the road on Wednesday night (4pm PT, Stream at www.bostonbreakers.com). Find out all you need to know about the opposition.
What can the Thorns expect?
Pushing to make the post-season playoffs, Boston is going to be a dangerous team in this fixture. In the two meetings between the teams, the Thorns has lost one and won the other game, which proves that either side can get the better of each other. So Cindy Parlow Cone knows what to expect from a team that is led by the dynamic Sydney Leroux and backed up by several quality players.
Formation does not matter with this Boston team as much as it does with other teams in the league, because they have so many versatile players who can operate on either side of the ball – defense or attack. So even if Cat Whitehill's team is set up in a 5-3-2 system that does not mean they are shutting up shop as they transition to attack so seamlessly and their outside backs get forward to offer support down the flanks.
Who are their main threats?
With a game-changer like Leroux amongst their ranks, Boston wisely uses the 23-year-old in the best way possible – by letting her roam freely in attack. And Leroux has been outstanding due to having that freedom, as she quickly became the team’s top scorer. But she is not the only one who can wreak havoc on backlines as Lianne Sanderson, Heather O’Reilly, Mariah Nogueira, Kyah Simon, and Kathryn Schoepfer are all excellent players in their own right.
Sanderson, in particular, is a very clever player as she slides the ball across the pitch as if passing a hockey puck on a sheet of fresh ice. O’Reilly, too, is just as inventive and creative with the ball at her feet, so it is hardly surprising that both players regularly supply assists. Yet, it is how they match their technical skills with their well-timed runs that ultimately makes the difference and allows them to get in behind the opposition.
Where are they most vulnerable?
Boston has only recorded three clean sheets this season and that indicates a weakness that they need to address. While they have only been blown out once – in the 5-1 loss to Sky Blue FC in June – there is clearly work to do to tighten up as a defensive unit and to provide more cover for goalkeeper Ashley Phillips, who should not have to deal with the amount of action that she does in most games.
The reason why Boston concedes in almost every game is because two of their main midfielders – O’Reilly and Nogueira – are constantly breaking forward and contributing to attacks. When they do that, it leaves gaps in the middle of the pitch and Joanna Lohman is often tasked with doing far too much. It is something that they have tried to fix by pushing more defenders into those areas, but that just transfers the danger to another position and it is something that the Thorns could look to exploit.
Player/Head Coach (interim): Cat Whitehill
An ever-present for Boston this season, Whitehill is a natural-born leader and organizes the backline with supreme confidence. And now she has stepped up to take over from head coach Lisa Cole, who parted ways with the club. Whitehill is still an extremely important player for Boston as she knows what is needed to combat opposition attacks and has the intelligence to direct her team-mates, while also possessing the quality to get the job done herself.
Star Player: Lianne Sanderson
Sanderson (above, left) is the type of player that you just can’t take your eyes off for a second, because if you do then she will have ghosted past you and started to head towards goal. Deceptively quick, she uses the ball very well due her close control, awareness, and knack of creating goalscoring opportunities for others – evidenced by her seven assists this season. She can also finish too as her four goals prove, so she is a huge threat for the Thorns.
One To Watch: Joanna Lohman
Every successful team needs a player like Lohman, who breaks up opposition attacks and provides defensive cover in a key area of the pitch. The midfielder has experience of playing in Sweden and Spain as well as in the now defunct WPS and the USL W-League, but she is very much a modern player who covers a huge amount of ground, links play with her short passing, and even pops up with the odd goal.
What happened when the teams last met?
After Sanderson put Boston ahead on 13 minutes, the Thorns hit back through Alex Morgan before Meleana Shim wrapped up the 2-1 win four minutes from the end. It was a game that the Thorns dominated with 15 shots unleashed and controlling the bulk of the possession to avenge the 2-0 loss that they suffered at JELD-WEN Field at the beginning of July.
What did the Thorns learn from that game?
When they were undone by two Leroux goals in the first meeting between the teams, the Thorns learned how to nullify the threat of the United States ace. But they also discovered that Boston has other players who can step up, like Sanderson, O’Reilly, and Nogueira, so stopping them flowing as an attacking force is hugely important to firstly containing them and secondly beating them.
By controlling the bulk of the play, the Thorns restricted their opponents from piecing together the moves that they rely on to get their goals. With Shim and Allie Long dominating in midfield, Parlow Cone’s team were able to play higher up the pitch, which resulted in them creating more chances on goal and even earning a season-high 11 corner kicks. They learned that the best way to beat Boston is by disrupting the flow of their game.
What did the two camps have to say at the time?
Portland Thorns forward Alex Morgan
“It’s been a long time since we got the result we wanted. Everything came together today. We realized that we really needed this game in order to potentially get first place at the end of this league.”
Boston Breakers captain Cat Whitehill
“I just think we beat ourselves a little bit in this game and obviously you have to give a lot of credit to Portland. They’re a great team, with a great backline, but I think, in this game particularly, we really hurt ourselves more than anything.”
How has Boston fared since then?
Boston has a record of 1-1-1 since losing to the Thorns last month with a 5-2 victory over Washington Spirit sandwiched between a 3-0 loss to FC Kansas City and a 2-2 tie with Western New York Flash. Those results mean that they are trailing behind in the league with only three games left to play in the regular season. But the loss of Cole will surely have shook them up.
Did You Know?
Boston Breakers forward Lianne Sanderson scored eight goals in 29 games for England before asking no longer to be considered for international selection under head coach Hope Powell.
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.