The Chicago Red Stars are set to welcome the visiting Portland Thorns to SeatGeek stadium on Thursday night, as both teams play their second match of group play in the NWSL Challenge Cup.
I sat down with Grant Little from Stumptown Footy yesterday to talk all things Portland Thorns, what we have to watch out for as Red Star fans, and Grant's predictions for tonight's game.
Little hails from Michigan, and began his journalism career with the Real Madrid website Managing Madrid, before taking over duty as lead Thorns reporter for Stumptown Footy.
He believes Thursday will be a tight game on, but the Red Stars may have some trouble with the talented team from Portland, even though their best players won't be playing.
Thorns in Our Side
The Thorns will be missing players that are currently with the US Women's National Team, something that the Red Stars will also have to deal with. Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsey Horan, and Sophia Smith will be just some of the key names missing for the Thorns but, based on a solid performance against Kansas City, Little still thinks Red Stars fans should tread lightly.
Even though Kansas City gave the Thorns a better performance than expected, the Thorns deserved the win. According to Little, "Portland had the better of the game". The Thorns came out strong as Rocky Rodriguez put Portland up in the 8th minute off a set piece. A second half goal by Tyler Lussi put the Thorns up 2-0. "It looked like we were going to go into cruise control", Little stated, "but Kansas City fought back throughout the entire match".
The Thorns struggled to clear out balls from their defensive half versus Kansas City, especially from set pieces. Given the Red Stars' struggle against the Dash to create many chances from open play, set pieces may be the best way to score against this Portland squad.
Little also believes the Red Stars can exploit the wide areas using wingers such as Kealia Watt to attack Portland's narrow formation. "Because we play a diamond, there is going to be a narrow midfield", Little said. "If Morgan Gautrat and Watt can play off each other well, they'll have the space (to attack)."
That said, the Thorns have tons of talent and will be a force to be reckoned with, as seen by their overall performance against Kansas City. Little believes there are a few keys to Portland winning this one, including taking advantage of their own set pieces, as well as putting pressure on the Red Stars midfield.
The Thorns have a habit of pressuring the opponent when the ball heads to the flanks. When that happens, the Thorns like to have a forward, two midfielders, and a fullback push up and pin the opponent in their own area to limit their passing options. "If we're able to limit the impact that (midfielders) Kayla Sharples and Danielle Colaprico have on getting the balls to the wing positions, you could see the Red Stars have trouble getting the ball into the final third."
Grant's Portland XI: 4-4-2 Diamond
Defense (Left to Right):Madison Pogarch - Kelli Hubley - Natalia Kuikka - Christen Westphal (assuming Menges injured)
Midfield:Meghan Klingenberg - Celeste Boureille - Rocky Rodriguez - Marissa Everett
Forwards:Tyler Lussi - Morgan Weaver
Grant: 1-0 Portland