NWSL Match Preview: Portland Thorns FC vs. Chicago Red Stars at JELD-WEN Field - July 28, 2013

Match Information
Portland Thorns FC vs. Chicago Red Stars
Presented by Coca-Cola

Date: Sunday, July 28, 2013
Kickoff: 4:00 p.m. (Pacific)
Location: JELD-WEN Field (Portland, Oregon)
National TV: FOX Soccer
Forecast: 75 degrees, partly cloudy

Sunday’s match marks the fourth, and final, regular-season meeting between Portland Thorns FC and the Chicago Red Stars. Thorns FC hold a 2-1-0 series advantage over Chicago in the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season with a 4-2 edge in scoring. Each of the three previous matches between the clubs has ended in a 2-0 shutout for the winners. Portland, which is just two points shy of first-place FC Kansas City in the NWSL standings, earned its first-ever shutout of the season in a 2-0 win at Chicago on April 27. Just two weeks later, on May 12, Thorns FC registered another 2-0 shutout against Chicago at Benedictine University Sports Complex in Lisle, Ill.

Chicago comes into Sunday’s game following a 4-1 loss against Seattle on Thursday at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Wash. The Red Stars, who are battling for the fourth, and final, spot to the NWSL playoffs, earned a 6-3-2 record following a 2-0 win over Thorns FC on June 1 at JELD-WEN Field. Chicago started the year 0-4-2, but earned their first-ever win on June 1.

Last Match vs. Chicago
The last time Thorns FC and the Chicago Red Stars squared off, Chicago tallied a goal in each half in a 2-0 win before 12,446 fans at JELD-WEN Field on
June 1. Missing national team players Alex Morgan, Rachel Buehler, Christine Sinclair and Karina LeBlanc (and with Tobin Heath yet to arrive in Portland), Thorns FC fielded a lineup that included amateur goalkeeper Cris Lewis earning the starting nod in goal and three players making their first start of the season. Chicago rookie midfielder Zakiya Bywaters headed in the go-ahead goal in the 35th minute, while defender Jackie Santacaterina added an insurance goal for the Red Stars in the 61st minute. Also missing several national team players, Chicago welcomed the addition of experienced German international forward Inka Grings and defender Sonja Fuss, each of whom made their Red Stars team debut in the win over Thorns FC. The two sides combined to record 26 total fouls, a season-high for combined fouls for Thorns FC.

Scouting the Red Stars
After a rocky start to the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season,
the Chicago Red Stars have surged back into the playoff picture in the second half of the season. After going 0-4-2 out of the gates, the Red Stars earned their first-ever win on June 1 against Thorns FC and subsequently pieced together a 6-2-2 mark over the next 10 games to climb back into the race for the fourth, and final, playoff spot.

Head coach Rory Dames’ team features Canada Women’s National Team goalkeeper Erin McLeod, as well as Mexico Women’s National Team members Maribel Dominguez (11 appearances, 1 goal) and Dinora Garza. The addition of German forward Inka Grings and defender Sonja Fuss has helped bolster the Red Stars for their playoff push. U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Shannon Boxx, expected to be a key component of the Chicago midfield, has appeared in only two games this year due to arthroscopic surgery on her right knee.

Chicago Connections
Thorns FC defender Marian Dougherty spent two seasons in WPS as part of the Chicago Red Stars. Drafted in the third round (20th overall) by the Red Stars in the 2009 WPS General Draft, Dougherty was a key presence in her two seasons - playing every minute of all 24 games in 2010 for Chicago. Thorns FC midfielder Nikki Washington also appeared in five games for the Red Stars in 2010 where she was teammates with Dougherty and current Chicago players Ella Masar, Julianne Sitch and Lydia Vandenbergh.

Shim Nets Late Winner Against Boston
Midfielder Meleana Shim scored the game-winning goal in the 86th minute and forward Alex Morgan added a goal and an assist for Thorns FC in a 2-1, come-from-behind win over the Boston Breakers in front of a sellout crowd 2,978 at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville, Mass., on July 21. A Hawaii native, Shim recorded her third goal of the year and is the fourth Thorns FC player to register a goal in consecutive matches this season. The win moves Thorns FC to within one point of first place in the NWSL standings. After going down a goal in the 13th minute, Morgan tallied the equalizer in the 24th minute off a Rachel Buehler assist.

Holding the Lead
Thorns FC are the only team in the NWSL that has yet to concede a lead this season. Portland, 8-0-0 when scoring first, is the lone remaining squad that has not allowed an opponent to come back for a tie or win in a match.

Scoring Streak
Rookie midfielder Meleana Shim became the fourth Thorns FC player to record a goal in consecutive matches this season with her game-winning goal against Boston on July 21. Shim, who has scored three goals this year, tallied the game-tying goal against the Western New York Flash on July 14. Forwards Alex Morgan (May 4-12), Christine Sinclair (May 19-25) and Danielle Foxhoven (June 6-16) have scored goals in back-to-back matches this year. Shim is also one of two Thorns FC players that have recorded three points in a match this season. Shim tallied a goal and an assist on June 16 against Seattle. Morgan notched three points (1g, 1a) on July 21 and four points (1g, 2a) on June 6.

Magic Number
Thorns FC are 8-0-0 when scoring two or more goals this season. In eight of the team’s nine wins, Portland has tallied two or more goals, including a streak of four straight wins when scoring twice in a game (April 21-May 12). When scoring the first goal, Thorns FC are an undefeated 8-0-0.

Steady Hands
A two-time NWSL Player of the Week selection (Weeks 11 and 14), Thorns FC goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc leads the league with a 0.87 goals-against average. The Canada Women’s National Team standout has stopped consecutive penalty kicks and is the only goalkeeper in the NWSL that has saved more than one penalty kick this season. LeBlanc ranks third in shutouts (6) in the NWSL.

Solid Defense
For all the plaudits the Thorns FC offense receives with Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair leading the charge, the team’s defense has been a major reason Thorns FC are near the top of the standings. Through 16 games, Thorns FC have conceded the fewest amount of opponent goals (15) in the league. Portland has recorded six shutouts, which ranks three behind FC Kansas City (9). Entering the week, the club is tied for first place in goals-against average (0.94) and ranks second in saves percentage (81 percent).

Super Sub
Thorns FC forward Danielle Foxhoven ranks tied for third on the team in scoring with three goals this season, all of which have come as a second-half substitute. Foxhoven, who scored in the 48th minute of a 4-3 win against FC Kansas City on June 6 as a halftime sub, has appeared in 15 of the team’s 16 games - 13 times off the bench. The former University of Portland standout has scored at a clip of .53 goals per 90 minutes, which ranks first on the team.

Reliable Defensive Corps
Through 16 games this season, Portland’s back line of Nikki Marshall, Rachel Buehler, Kat Williamson and Marian Dougherty have proved to be a reliable group. Marshall and Williamson have started all 16 games, with Williamson (a rookie) playing every minute of every game this season (1,440). Marshall ranks third on the team in minutes played. Buehler has missed two matches, both for international duty, while Dougherty missed two games (one due to her sister’s wedding).

Among League Leaders
Entering the week, Thorns FC Alex Morgan ranks first in the NWSL in shots (66) and shots on goal (35), while coming in fourth place in overall points with 16 (6g, 4a).

Attendance In Context
Through eight home games, Portland has earned an average attendance number of 12,825 at JELD-WEN Field. The number is impressive when put in larger context. When placed alongside Major League Soccer attendance numbers, Thorns FC draw larger average crowds than Chivas USA (8,715) and just slightly less than three other MLS clubs: D.C. United (13,645), New England (13,745) and Chicago (13,775). Worldwide based on 2012-13 attendance, Thorns FC have earned higher average attendance than seven men’s teams in the Dutch Eredivisie (Netherlands), five teams in Ligue 1 (France), three teams in Serie A (Italy) and England’s npower Championship (the step below the Premier League) and two teams in La Liga (Spain).