The Portland Thorns go back on the road on Sunday to take on the Boston Breakers (1pm PT, webstream: www.bostonbreakers.com). Find out all you need to know about the opposition.
What can the Thorns expect?
As the Thorns found out a couple of weeks back, Boston is a very good team. They move the ball forward quickly, unload shots on goal from all angles and have pace to burn when trying to burst into areas behind the opposition’s defense. On top of that, they have difference-makers in Sydney Leroux and Heather O’Reilly, who can be almost impossible to spot once they shift into top gear and provided with the right kind of service.
Defensively, Boston can be breached, but they have a lot of strong defenders and the Thorns can expect another tough afternoon trying to break them down. Although, if they are clever, then they can stretch Boston out wide and in central positions when they are on the attack or have committed too many players to on particular area. It will be a game of chess, but the Thorns are grandmasters when at their best.
Who are their main threats?
With 10 goals scored, Leroux is joint top (alongside Western New York Flash’s Abby Wambach) of the scoring charts, so she is the main player for the Thorns to be aware of. The United States international is one of the most dynamic forwards in women’s soccer and be as unpredictable as she can be reliable for her team. And, from Boston’s perspective, the best thing about Leroux is that she is not just a finisher, but someone who demands higher standards of those around her.
Leroux may be the main target in almost all of Boston’s attacks, but O’Reilly is actually the fulcrum of their team. A classy midfielder, she has five and makes her team tick with her excellent passing game. In front of her, England international Lianne Sanderson has the most assists in the league (7), while Mariah Nogueira and Kathryn Schoepfer regularly pop up with valuable contributions once the team gets into its attacking groove.
Where are they most vulnerable?
In their last meeting, the Thorns discovered that the way to getting in behind Boston is by applying pressure and disrupting their passing. With just three clean sheets recorded this season, they do not possess the tightest backline, but that can only be exposed if the Thorns can push them back into their own half. In the first half of their last meeting, Cindy Parlow Cone’s team didn’t do that enough and it led to them conceding twice.
If Boston opt to deploy the 4-3-3 formation that they have largely favoured this season, then that could be a way for the Thorns to take advantage when the opposition commit an extra player forward for counterattacks. With both teams playing a similar style, it is all about how the midfield players cover the ground, link up with teammates, and inject accuracy into their passing in order to pry open the other team’s defense.
Head Coach: Lisa Cole
Associated with Boston for the last three years, Cole stepped up to the head coaching position with the support of players and club officials. A goalkeeper during her playing days, she has proved to be a shrewd coach and made the most of her at college level with the University of Mississippi, University of Connecticut, University of Rhode Island, and Florida States University. Now, she is making waves with Boston in their debut NWSL campaign.
Star Player: Heather O’Reilly
With six assists and three goals registered this season, O’Reilly has cemented her status as one of the most affective players in the league. Comfortable with the ball at her feet, she is a real driving force for her team and times both her passes and runs extremely well. Able to pick out the perfect pass for team-mates, she is constantly twisting opposition defenses inside out, while her eye for goal and ability to execute sees her pop up with crucial goals.
One To Watch: Mariah Nogueira
A real bright spark this season, Nogueira has taken to the NWSL without any difficulty after being selected in the College Draft following her time at Stanford University. While there is still a lot that the 22-year-old can add to her game, she has handled the rigours of a top league well and made some big contributions for Boston. If she can score more goals and provide more assists, then she will become a real star player, but she is doing just fine right now.
What happened when the teams last met?
Two first-half goals from Leroux secured a 2-0 victory for Boston at JELD-WEN Field in what was a surprise result considering the Thorns registered a season-high 20 shots on goal and were completely dominant in the second period. It just wasn’t a day that went right for Parlow Cone’s team as Boston goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made seven saves and shut out waves of Thorns attacks.
What did the Thorns learn from that game?
The most basic lesson that the Thorns will have taken from that game was that goals win games. It may be a simple message, but one that hammers in the need to put the ball in the back of the net when on top in games. The Thorns are not short of quality attackers and Alex Morgan hit a season-high eight shots against Boston, but still came up short. But the old saying of ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ was certainly apt in that game despite the performance of the opposition keeper.
The other aspect from that game that will have stung the Thorns was their slow start. By allowing Leroux to score twice in the first half, they were always chasing the points from there and that makes things incredibly difficult – even if they are the home side. Due to the quality that they possess on their roster, the Thorns always have the ability to fight their way back into games, but giving a team a headstart can prove costly, especially one of Boston’s caliber.
What did the two camps have to say at the time?
Portland Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone
“The mood is uplifting because finally we saw in the second half what we are capable of doing when we go after teams. We’ve been talking about it a lot in training and I think the second half was the first time we’ve really seen it all season long. We’re going to build off that second half.”
Boston Breakers forward Sydney Leroux
“I think a lot of people wrote us off for the season after a bunch of our losses. We just need to come together and play 90-minute games. That’s what we’ve been struggling with – playing 90 minutes is very crucial for us.”
How has Boston fared since then?
Boston has only played once since beating the Thorns as they played out a scoreless draw away to Sky Blue FC. Goalkeeper Ashley Phillips made five saves to record a clean sheet in what Cole described as a “good team performance against one of the best teams in the league”. They now sit on 20 points after 15 league games played.
Did You Know?
Boston forward and United States women’s international Sydney Leroux was recently featured in ESPN’s recent Body Issue. Thorns forward Alex Morgan who was featured in the issue last year.
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.