The Portland Thorns will bid to finish up as the 2013 NWSL champions on Saturday evening as they take on Western New York Flash in the Championship final, which promises to be a thrilling encounter (5pm PT, FOX Soccer / FOX Sports 2, Free webstream trial: FOXSoccer2Go.com).
Having overcome FC Kansas City in a stunning semifinal comeback, Cindy Parlow Cone’s team now must show similar character in order to cap off the inaugural NWSL season in the best possible way.
Lifting that trophy won’t be easy though as they square up to the team who finished top of the table following the regular season. But here is everything you need to know about New York.
Western New York Flash - Regular Season Record
Games Played 22
Goals For 36
Goals Against 20
Path to the Playoffs
It took New York three games to register their first win as they overcame Sky Blue FC on May 1, but that then sparked a nine-game unbeaten run and allowed Aaran Lines’ team to show a glimpse of their title-winning potential. It was far from smooth sailing from there though as they slipped up away to Seattle Reign on July 11 and it required a big reaction to bounce back from that. So the fact that they remained unbeaten for the remainder of the regular season after that proved they were worthy of finishing top of the table.
For the majority of the NWSL regular season, New York played in a 4-4-2 formation, but tweaked it slightly for the playoff semifinal win over Sky Blue FC by adopting a 4-3-3 set-up. That new system allowed them to get two of their three forward players out wide and stretch the opposition while also making space in central areas for top scorer Abby Wambach to roam into. It will be curious to see if they try to pull off the same move against the Thorns.
Personnel-wise, New York is well equipped in a variety of positions, but, tactically, they rely heavily on Wambach. Of course, having a forward as powerful and as clinical as the reigning FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year means much of their offense focuses on her as their main weapon, but it does make them predictable at times. So cutting off the supply lines to Wambach can shake up New York’s game-plan, while also shifting pressure on some of their other players to step up.
Head to Head
Carli Lloyd vs Allie Long
Any midfielder who pops up with eight goals in a season deserves to be treated as one of their team’s main threats and that is very much the case with Lloyd. The USWNT international is one of the best in the NWSL at driving forward with the ball at her feet and skips by opposition players as if operating at a higher speed. So that is why Long, who has been consistently superb for the Thorns this year, must prepare to keep a close watch on such a crucial player for New York. If she can track Lloyd’s runs and disrupt her passing, then Long can then put her on the backfoot and make sure that she spends more time defending instead of attacking.
Previous Meetings with Thorns
July 14 – Portland Thorns 1-1 Western New York Flash, JELD-WEN Field
In front of 13,021 supporters, the Thorns took less than a minute to respond to falling behind to Wambach’s goal on 37 minutes when Mana Shim fired in following an assist from Christine Sinclair. Despite registering 20 shots, the home team found this to be a difficult game and needed goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc to save a late penalty kick from Wambach to secure the point.
August 10 – Western New York Flash 0-0 Portland Thorns, Sahlen’s Stadium
Once again LeBlanc was kept busy as she registered a season-high 10 saves to keep out a New York team who hit the target 10 times from their 14 shots on goal. It was a physical game that tested the Thorns’ resolve, but they stood tall when pushed back inside their own half and showed that their counter-attacking can reverse that trend once they get moving.
How to Beat Them
The Thorns have not reached this stage by chance; they are a very good team and the belief in themselves is something that can get them over the line in what should be an incredibly tight game. Yes, New York are a winning team and they know what works best for them under head coach Lines. However, they have yet to overcome the Thorns and that is because they struggle to deal with the type of movement that players like Long, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Danielle Foxhoven and Sinclair bring.
The three keys to stopping New York are shackling Wambach, shutting down their creativity in midfield, and forcing them backwards. This is a team that likes to push, not to be pushed, so that should encourage the Thorns as they are one of the best counter-attacking teams in the league. From there, they should be able to pull the New York defenders out of position and find a route through to Adrianna Franch’s goal, where their superior finishing will be required.