NWSL Match Preview: Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns FC - April 19, 2014

Date: Saturday, April 19, 2014
Kickoff: 4 p.m. (Pacific)
Location: Yurcak Field (Piscataway, NJ)
Forecast: 63 degrees, scattered showers
Referee: Miguel Panduro, Jr.
Assistant Referees: Amanda Ross, Albert Calise
Fourth Official: Mark Allatin

Thorns FC continue their two-game road stretch to open the 2014 NWSL campaign on Saturday as they face a second straight opponent in its regular- season home opener when they visit Sky Blue FC at Yurcak Field. Portland captured a 1-0 win on the road last weekend against the Houston Dash, seeing nine new players make their team debut. Like Thorns FC, Sky Blue FC opened their 2014 regular season on the road on April 12, and earned a draw at FC Kansas City behind an equalizing goal from Katy Freels in the second half. Saturday’s match is the first of three matches between Thorns FC and Sky Blue FC during the 2014 regular season and it will be the only matchup between the two teams in Piscataway, N.J. Portland and Sky Blue FC split the three-game, regular-season series (1-1-1) last season, with Thorns FC earning a point on the road in a scoreless draw in the team’s only visit to Yurcak Field in 2013. Thorns FC have outscored Sky Blue FC 3-1 in the all-time series between the teams.

Thorns FC open 2014 campaign with road win

Midfielder Allie Long scored the game’s decisive goal in the first half and goalkeeper Nadine Angerer helped register a shutout as defending-National Women’s Soccer League champions Portland Thorns FC opened the 2014 regular season with a 1-0 win on the road against the Houston Dash before 8,097 fans at BBVA Compass Stadium on April 12. Thorns FC did well to manage the early pressure and energy from the NWSL expansion Dash play- ing in their inaugural match at home. Portland secured the lead in the 24th minute as Long headed home her first goal of the season. The Thorns FC defense held Houston to just three shots on goal during the match, and Angerer recorded two saves in her team debut to help Portland head coach Paul Riley record the victory in his first match at the helm. Opening the campaign on the road for a second consecutive season, Thorns FC outshot the Dash, 12-10, and Portland’s defense held firm through several dangerous chances by Houston through- out the match. Portland staked the lead midway through the first half after winning a throw-in deep in its offensive third. From the right side, forward Jessica McDonald’s throw-in found Long cutting back toward the ball in the middle of the box. Long headed the ball from close range past Dash goalkeeper Erin McLeod and inside the left post.

Scouting Sky Blue FC

After capturing a 1-1 draw on the road in their season opener, Sky Blue FC play host to Portland in its home opener at Yurcak Field on Saturday. The New Jersey- based club opened the season with a 1-1 draw at FC Kansas City on April 12. Midfielder Katy Freels scored the equalizer in the 48th minute and goalkeeper Jill Loyden recorded seven saves to help earn Sky Blue a share of the points, despite being outshot, 14-5, by FC Kansas City. Jim Gabarra’s side returns 14 players from the team’s 2013 squad that posted a 10-6-6 record and qualified for the NWSL playoffs, including U.S. Women’s National Team player and 2013 NWSL Best XI selection Christie Rampone and Canadian National Team standout Sophie Schmidt. Mexican international Monica Ocampo led Sky Blue FC in scoring a season ago with eight goals. Starting with Saturday’s match against Thorns FC, Sky Blue FC play four of their next five games at home. Sky Blue FC posted a 5-2-4 record at Yurcak Field in 2013, ranking among NWSL leaders in home winning percentage (.636) and their two home losses were second-fewest in the league. Sky Blue FC finalized its roster Monday announcing the signing of New Jersey native and midfielder Meg Morris, a former four-year starter at North Carolina.

On the road, again

Dating back to last season, Saturday’s match against Sky Blue FC marks the seventh straight road game for Thorns FC. Portland closed the 2013 NWSL regular-season schedule with three straight road games and was then forced to play back-to-back playoff games away from home after earning the league’s No. 3 seed to the postseason. Thorns FC earned a league-best 6-2-3 record on the road last year and, including the postseason, Portland earned an 8-2-3 record (.730 winning pct.) in all competitions away from its home confines of Providence Park. In all competitions, Portland outscored its opponents 18-10 in 13 road games and scored two or more goals in seven road games in 2013. Thorns FC open the 2014 regular-season schedule with consecutive road games, facing the Houston Dash and Sky Blue FC before returning home to the Rose City on Saturday, April 26, to square off against FC Kansas City at Providence Park in the regular-season home opener.

Thorns debuts

The season-opening win at Houston marked the team debuts for nine players on the Thorns FC roster. In addition to goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, the Thorns FC backline featured three players making their team debuts, and aiding in the shutout were rookie defenders Emily Menges and Courtney Niemiec both making their professional debuts. It was also the first NWSL match for head coach Paul Riley, capturing the win his first league match at the helm of Thorns FC.

Talent all around

This offseason Portland signed Germany Women’s National Team captain Nadine Angerer, the 2013 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year. Add in forward Christine Sinclair, who is the captain of the Canada Women’s National Team and Spain Women’s National Team captain Verónica Boquete and Portland’s roster accounts for three national team captains. Eleven players on Portland’s roster have earned at least one cap at the senior international level for their respective national teams, while Angerer is a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup winner, Sinclair (bronze), midfielder Tobin Heath, forward Alex Morgan and defender Rachel Van Hollebeke (gold) are all Olympic medal winners. Forward Jackie Acevedo (Mexico), defender Stephanie Catley (Australia), midfielders Amber Brooks and Angie Kerr and defender/midfielder Sarah Huffman (United States) all have earned senior national team caps during their careers.

Among league leaders

While early in the season, Thorns FC players sit among the NWSL leaders in multiple statisical categories. With her game-winning goal against Houston, midfielder Allie Long is tied for third among the league’s top goal-scorers and also ranks among NWSL leaders in both shots (5) and shots on goal (4). New forward Jessica McDonald is tied with three others for the league lead in assists. Making her Thorns FC debut against the Dash, goalkeeper Nadine Angerer is one of just two goalkeepers (Seattle’s Hope Solo) in the NWSL with a shutout.

As a team, Thorns FC rank third in the NWSL in both shot attempts (12) and shots on goal (5). Portland, along with Western New York, were the only road teams to capture all three points during the NWSL’s opening weekend.

Thorns durable duo

Thorns FC midfielder Allie Long and defender Nikki Marshall have started 23 consecutive regular-season matches for the club dating back to last season. Both players featured in all 22 regular-season games for Portland during the inaugural NWSL season in 2013. Only seven other players across the league have started 23 straight matches for the same team.

Additionally, Long became the first Thorns FC player and just the fourth player in the NWSL’s young history to surpass 2,000 minutes played (in regular-season play) last weekend. Having played 2,046 minutes in the NWSL, Long was one of several players last weekend across the league to reach the 2,000 minutes played benchmark. Marshall also is within reach of 2,000 minutes played, cur- rently at 1,961 minutes.