Boston Breakers at Portland Thorns
7/20/14, 5:00 PM
Providence Park, Portland, OR
Looking to move up the table, and earn their fourth victory of the season, the Breakers claimed an early road goal against Houston last Friday. Dash rookie forward Kealia Oahi took over from there, scoring a pair of second-half goals en route to a 2-1 come-from-behind victory. The loss highlighted a significant flaw for Tom Durkin's club: the Breakers regularly turn in a strong first half, only to disappear in the second frame. Durkin must find a way to rally his troops for a full 90 minutes and salvage a thoroughly disappointing 2014 campaign.
Last Five: D-L-D-L-L
For the Thorns, 2014 has quickly developed into a mystery season. Some nights, their Jessica McDonald-lead attack looks as dangerous as any; the team has twice scored six goals or more. Other nights, such as Thursday's 1-1 draw with Chicago, the attack struggles to turn opportunities into goals. The defending champs will look to replicate last weekend's 7-1 thumping of FC Kansas City--not May's 4-1 loss to the Breakers.
Last Five: L-D-D-W-D
What to Watch For:
In Boston, pressure has continued to mount, as Tom Durkin's club has significantly regressed following a middle-of-the-road finish in 2013. Much of the blame should fall on Durkin's makeshift roster; his players have struggled to find steady positions, constantly working to fill the clubs' various roster holes. Will midfielders Kristie Mewis and Nikki Washington find a home?
In order for this team to excel, Mewis must find space to work down the left flank. But when she does, the Hanson, Mass. native needs to thoughtfully distribute, setting up Nkem Ezurike, Katie Schoepfer and Boston's other top goal scorers. Her desire to find Schoepfer over the top has not succeeded thus far. In similar fashion, Washington needs to find a consistent position in order to contribute effectively. Will she feature as a wide midfielder, holding midfielder or defender? Her natural skillset falls in the midfield, though Durkin has navigated a midfield log-jam since April. Steady contributions (and a renewed sense of consistency) from these two role players would greatly benefit the Breakers quest to build out of the back and create opportunities for Schoepfer & Co.
Paul Riley's Thorns, who currently occupy the fourth an final playoff spot, have experienced extreme peaks and valleys in 2014. When midfielder Veronica Boquete builds behind forwards Jessica McDonald and Alex Morgan, Portland's attack looks only a half-step behind Seattle's 34-goal campaign. Will Portland's triangular trio combine in their national TV debut?
If they do, Portland's inconsistent back line will immediately enter the limelight. Emily Menges and Nikki Marhsall have led the way, though their attack-heavy three-defender set--often featuring Stephanie Catley as the third wheel--frequently looks vulnerable on the counter. Look for Breakers' wide midfielders Heather O'Reilly and Kristie Mewis to take advantage of space on the flanks, looking to expose Portland's suspect back three.
To watch all the action of Sunday's east-west matchup, visit WatchESPN.com or turn your TV to ESPN2.