For the second time this season, the Portland Thorns come up against New York Western Flash (4:35pm PT, Live Webstream). Check out all the inside information on the opposition.
What can the Thorns expect?
Normally set up in a 4-4-2 formation, New York plays in a very classic type of play in that they aim to get the ball forward into their big striker – Abby Wambach – and build play from there. It is a tactic that would be labeled as ‘route one’ in the media, but it can be very effective, especially with a player like Wambach dominating in the air and holding up play to allow other players to join attacks.
A very physical team, New York pride themselves on being tough to beat. The one thing that you will always get from them is a real battle, as they don’t give up many goals – they have only conceded more than two goals in one game this season – and are one of the highest-scoring teams in the league. It may not always be pretty soccer, but it is a style that gets them results and ruffles up their opponents.
Who are their main threats?
Looking past Wambach would be incredibly foolish as she is possibly the best forward in women’s soccer right now and, unsurprisingly, New York revolves a lot of their play around her. At every opportunity, when they are attacking, the tactic appears to be to seek out Wambach, who is tasked with knocking on or controlling high balls and that is where her teammates attempt to break forward into the opposition’s penalty area.
The other threats for New York include the speedy Veronica Perez, the dependable Jodi-Ann Robinson, the tricky Vicki DiMartino, the creative Samantha Kerr, and the talented McCall Zerboni. Each player brings skill, technique and pace to a team that moves from defensive situations into attacks quite quickly and that can be difficult to deal with unless a team is prepared for it.
Where are they most vulnerable?
Unloading shots from distance at goalkeeper Adrianna Franch is pretty pointless because she is amongst the best shot-stoppers in the league. But taking a more measured approach to unlocking New York’s backline can prove to be a hit, especially with a team like the Thorns, who have so many attacking players who are excellent with controlling the ball in tight areas and shifting it past defenders before they even see it coming their way.
The trick to stopping New York is to take the game to them. Deny them the chance to launch balls forward by keeping possession of the ball and putting them on the backfoot as often as possible. The Thorns need to be clever with using the width of the pitch and having players making runs off the ball. If they can do that, then they will find that New York will become increasingly vulnerable.
Head coach: Aaran Lines
Portland Timbers supporters may recognize the name of this New Zealander as he played for the team in their USL days in 2005. He landed in the U.S. after spells in Germany and Poland, whole also representing his country 31 times, before moving into coaching. He started out with the Buffalo Flash, but has been with Western New York since 2011 – leading them to an undefeated season in his second year.
Star Player: Carli Lloyd
A player doesn’t get to make over 150 appearances for the USWNT unless they are truly special and Lloyd is certainly that. The New Jersey native is a classy midfielder with superb close control and a knack for scoring important goals. At international level, she has been there and won it; now, she is playing a leading role for a team heading to the postseason playoffs.
One To Watch: Samantha Kerr
Just as good finishing off chances as she is creating them, Kerr has added an extra zip to New York’s play this season. Able to play up front or out wide in midfield, the Australia international uses her speed well to get past opposition defenders and has the awareness to use the ball affectively in the final third of the pitch. She links up well with Wambach, but can step up and lead the frontline by herself if required to do so.
What happened when the teams last met?
A late penalty save by Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc ensured Cindy Parlow Cone’s side earned a 1-1 tie at JELD-WEN Field. After Wambach opened the scoring on 37 minutes, the Thorns hit back almost immediately through Meleana Shim, but it required a big performance from LeBlanc, who made five saves, for the points to be shared.
What did the Thorns learn from that game?
The valuable lesson that the Thorns will have taken from that tie was that New York can strike quickly with little warning. For the opening goal, Kerr was not closed down in midfield and she was able to pick out a cross for Wambach, who outmuscled her marker to hook the ball in.
As the game went on, the Thorns enjoyed a lot more possession and really had their visitors pinned back inside their own penalty area for large chunks of time. The movement of Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan caused all sorts of problems and that is something that should aim to repeat in this second game between the teams. New York is a good team, but the Thorns pressure helped Portland come back..
What did the Thorns camp have to say at the time?
Portland Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone
“It’s tough when you create so many quality chances and you’re unable to get the go-ahead goal, but I thought we had a lot of good chances and we got people into very good positions. Credit Adrianna [Franch, New York keeper], she was on fire and made some fantastic saves in goal.”
Portland Thorns midfielder Tobin Heath
“Ever since I got to Portland, you could just feel the support here, it’s just tremendous – the city, the people, it’s just great. To hear them and have their support the whole entire game, especially when we needed it most with that huge penalty kick save.”
How has New York fared since then?
New York has played four games since tying with the Thorns and they are unbeaten in each of them. Back-to-back 3-0 victories over Sky Blue FC and Washington Spirit was followed up by a 2-2 draw with Boston Breakers, and they then edged to a 1-0 win over Seattle Reign in midweek.
Did You Know?
New York forward Abby Wambach, who is the reigning FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, recently became the all-time top scorer for the USWNT by reaching 160 goals.
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.