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Match preview: Boston vs Portland away

Can Boston hold on to a lead this time?

The Boston Breakers and the Portland Thorns locked horns over a 2-2 tie last weekend at Jordan Field. Now the Breakers are on the Thorns’ home turf in Portland, ready to play them away. Portland is fifth and Boston is seventh in the standings, though they’re separated by one point, and so far neither of them has managed to win an away game. Can Boston break that pattern?

Evidence from their last game suggests they can, although conditions will be different this time around for Portland. First, Thorns home-field advantage. Boston has several veterans who will undoubtedly be used to the noise and smoky hoopla of Providence Park, but we’ll see if the rookies are shaken at all.

Second, the return of Allie Long. Long was not available for Portland last game and her impact as a box-to-box midfielder could really be felt here. Angela Salem was busy enough when Boston was dealing with no Long and moving the ball out to the flanks a lot. This time it will be crucial for her control the space in front of the center backs. Long’s presence allows either Christine Sinclair or Lindsey Horan to push higher and make trouble in the box.

This is also where Rose Lavelle comes into play. She’ll have to come up with a proportionate response to whatever Portland does in the midfield; last game she was a little bit isolated, a little bit too removed from the action. Even better would be Lavelle taking control of the game; it will probably be Amandine Henry’s job on the day to keep her under control, and Henry hasn’t looked as sharp as she did last season. Lavelle vs. Henry could be extremely entertaining to watch, although it could be a fairly crowded midfield, making it expedient to look over the top for Natasha Dowie. Would that mean a start for Amanda Frisbie, who Matt Beard says he likes for her left-footed delivery from deep? Or perhaps some time for Morgan Andrews, who can also hit the ball out of the Breakers’ half?

Unlikely on Andrews, who seems solidly in Beard’s “occasional sub” column for now, and Megan Oyster and Christen Westphal are building a decent parternship in the back, so Frisbie would also be another second-half adjustment. Still, these are all options to hit not just Dowie but Lavelle, Rosie White, Adriana Leon, or Midge Purce in stride. If Purce in particular can keep calibrating her looks at goal, she could really help pull some pressure off of Dowie around the 18, although once again the side to exploit this time might be Portland’s left, meaning Leon will need to bring her eh game (because she’s Canadian, get it). Meghan Klingenberg looked a little lost a couple times last weekend, so we’ll see if she pulls it together at home.

Amanda Da Costa is out this week for Boston on an excused absence, reducing some of their forward depth in closing out games. But Emilie Haavi is finally off the injured list after suffering a broken jaw in training in April. What Boston really needs is to score in the first half and not let up pressure on Portland. For whatever reason, after the Thorns were awarded a penalty last weekend, the Breakers mentally let them back in the game. Boston has the strength now to pressure a team like Portland for 90 everywhere on the field; they just need to execute it.

Breakers vs Thorns kicks off at 10 PM ET on Saturday, May 27. The game will livestream on go90 and on NWSLsoccer.com.