Boston plays Portland in the second of three games this season Saturday at Soldiers Field Stadium. Traditionally, Portland has not done well when Boston plays at home and the Breakers will be hoping to keep tradition alive. Not just to defeat Portland, but to actually pick up some points during the optimal window, when national team players are away for the World Cup.
Paul Riley has stuck to his 3-6-1 (or 3-2-4-1 in some cases) with varied results. Sometimes Portland controls the mid; sometimes a single mistake in the back costs them big because they're only playing a three-back. Boston will be hoping to exploit that weakness on Saturday.
The ones doing the exploiting will probably be Steph McCaffrey and Morgan Marlborough, with a side helping of Kristie Mewis, unless Rafinha finds another gear in central mid. She might be in for a tough night facing down McCall Zerboni. Nkem Ezurike will probably see time; hopefully she'll be able to either pull a few defenders away from McCaffrey or help generate good interplay around the box to set up or score on her own.
We'll also see if Durkin sticks to playing two defensive mids in front of his back line, likely Amy Barczuk and Katie Schoepfer, although Bia has moved up the injury list to "probable." He may stick to his more defensive setup in order to prevent being overrun in the midfield and control Allie Long, who is having quite a decent season so far. We'll also see if he starts recent signing Lauren Lazo instead of Maddy Evans at right back. Evans is listed as probable, so in the event of a Lazo start, Evans would be either be pushed up to midfield - not the worst call, considering the team needs some attack along the right - or would be sent back to the bench to be used as an impact sub.
The Thorns have recently hit a trend of going down early, then clawing their way back into a tie, so they'll be coming out strong against Boston. Durkin also likes to send Boston out strong in the first 15 minutes or so, then try to taper off and settle into the half. Against Portland this could result in a very exciting opening to the first half, followed by a much more cautious game. Alternately the Breakers could be looking to just absorb the early pressure, get their game legs under them, and try to dictate the flow from there.
The Thorns are out plenty of national team starters plus center back Rachel van Hollebeke, who has a left hamstring strain, but their amateurs are filling in the gaps and forward Genoveva Añonma might be available to play depending on paperwork. If the central defense can keep a tight watch on her or whoever slots in at striker, distribute quickly to bypass the midfield on the counter, and find some forwards on the run, Boston might be able to find three points.
The game starts at 4 PM ET on May 16 and will stream live on NWSL's youtube channel.