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Match preview: Boston Breakers vs Portland Thorns

Boston hits the Thorns in the middle of a brutal home-and-away grind

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Here’s Boston’s travel schedule for the past couple of games: away against Kansas City on August 28, back home against the Dash on August 31, now back away again on September 4.

Here’s Portland’s recent schedule: they were away against Seattle on August 27, and now they’re at home tomorrow.

One team took a quick hop to their neighbor up north and one has flown zigzag across the country. The game would have been a tough enough prospect before that, but now the Breakers are road-weary on top of their recent setback against the Houston Dash at home, when most of the team regressed to their early season form and went down to the Dash by three before snagging a consolation goal in stoppage.

The Thorns aren’t in the greatest place results-wise recently, losing three out of the last five games and most recently getting handled 3-1 by the Reign. But that doesn’t mean they’ve looked nearly as bad as Boston did against Houston, and if Boston has the benefit of having all of their players back, then so does Portland.

Portland should have Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Allie Long, and Christine Sinclair back among the ranks of its difference-makers, and Amandine Henry is probable despite some back pain. They’ll have Nadia Nadim and they might have Dagny Brynjarsdottir. Their bench is just deeper, and their starting XI is guaranteed to be sharper.

Does that mean Boston is a write-off for this game? Absolutely not. The last time they met in May, Boston only lost by one, and that was when they were much more of a mess on the field. And strange things happen when Boston meets Portland; sometimes they lose, and lose badly; sometimes they pull out narrow wins; sometimes they pull out BIG wins.

Rsoter rotation will definitely come into play. Head coach Matt Beard switched his lineups a bit between playing Kansas City and Houston and you can bet he’ll switch again in order to deal with Portland. If Portland puts Sinclair and Heath out there at the same time, that calls for a lot of ability to absorb pressure through the center and the wings. He’ll also be counting on Angela Salem to step up the disruption factor, possibly look for Natasha Dowie on the break. It’s certainly possible to split the Portland defense and Dowie could pull it off with her good timing and speed.

What’ll help is the return of Julie King, who sat the last game while a combination of Brooke Elby and Christen Westphal handled the right side. With King in play, that’s a stronger player to help handle Tobin Heath, assuming Heath doesn’t get switched back and forth between sides, which is also a possibility, in which case Elby will have to be very careful to limit her opportunities. Basically don’t let Tobin Heath in.

Meanwhile Boston needs to close the gaping hole between their midfielders and forwards. They left plenty of space for Houston to maneuver and didn’t press nearly enough, resulting in paltry possession and a lot of defending. Portland has way too many players who can take advantage of space not to stay organized; Horan can also drive into space or pick out a free player and Meghan Klingenberg is definitely no stranger to leaping into the gaps on a counter.

So: don’t get penned like against Houston. Keep the ball. Step to the ball when you don’t have it. Patience will be key as the team works on finding Dowie at the top of the formation. Getting Dowie and Kristie Mewis more opportunities on goal will also open up more chances for Kyah Simon, who is an expert at scoring on late arrivals into the box.

Boston vs. Portland kicks off at 7 PM ET on Sunday, September 4 at Providence Park. It will stream live on NWSL’s youtube channel.