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Tactical Preview: Utah Royals FC vs Portland Thorns

Can the Royals grab three points from the Thorns on their first trip to Portland?

Cindy Lara - RSL Soapbox

Tonight, Utah Royals FC have a Friday night primetime matchup as they travel to Portland to take on the Thorns. After their first meeting a few weeks ago ended in a 1-1 draw, both teams will be looking to do the little bit extra they feel they need to do to claim a win. What will it take for each side to take the full three points? Let’s jump in and have a look!

Utah Royals FC

Last week against the Houston Dash, the URFC defense continued to be dominant. They played their way to another shutout, continuing to lead the league in goals conceded with only 5 goals through 8 matches. That effort combined with a good goal from Erika Tymrak led the Royals to a win.

Statistics provided by the NWSL continue to show how dominant the Royals defense has been so far in 2018. In addition to leading the league in goals conceded, they also lead the league in shots on frame allowed with only 17 across 8 games and are second in the league in total shots allowed with 70. Only the North Carolina Courage have allowed fewer total shots, but they have allowed more shots on goal and conceded more goals than the Royals. URFC are also second in the league in clean sheets, with 4 in 8 games. The Courage have recorded 5 clean sheets in the 10 games they have played, so though they have one more shutout than the Royals, the two teams are actually tied on shutout percentage at 50%.

As was discussed last week, the Royals continue to be dedicated and diligent in their defensive duties. We have come to see that the team plays this way, and I believe we will continue to see this defensive dominance throughout the season. The key to the Royals turning their inaugural season into a truly special, potentially championship-winning season is the continued development of the offense. If URFC can find a way to start scoring goals regularly, they will truly become a force to be reckoned with in the NWSL.

Portland Thorns

Similarly to the Royals, Portland’s last game ended in a 1-0 victory for them, courtesy of a 68th-minute goal from teenager Ellie Carpenter. The Thorns have now scored 12 goals and conceded 12 goals in the 9 matches they have played so far this season. Surprisingly, they have thus far not performed the best at home, posting a 1-2-1 record for only 4 of a possible 12 home points so far this season.

The biggest scoring threat from Portland that URFC are going to have to keep their eyes on is Canadian international Christine Sinclair, who has played every minute of the season for the Thorns and has scored 5 of their 12 goals from her #10 position. She also leads the team with 3 assists. On paper, it appears as if the Thorns play a hybrid 3-4-3/3-5-2 system. Essentially, they have a back line of three, a midfield of four and two forwards, with Sinclair being allowed to float wherever she pleases. Key to the Royals’ hopes of getting a positive result from this game is controlling Sinclair’s movement and ability to influence the game both with goals and assists.

Injury Report (via NWSLSoccer.com)

Portland Thorns FC

OUT: Adrianna Franch (right knee meniscus surgery), Bella Geist (left quad strain), Meg Morris (left hip pain), Hayley Raso (right knee sprain), Emily Sonnett (lower back pain)

Utah Royals FC

OUT: Alex Arlitt (left knee strain – SEI), Mandy Laddish (right hip contusion – SEI), Kelley O’Hara (right hamstring strain)

Expected Lineup

GK: Smith

DF: Elby, Corsie, Sauerbrunn, Moros

MF: Scott, Gorry

MF: Tymrak, Jonsdottir, Matheson

ST: Rodriguez

Royals’ keys to the match

  1. Find ways to continue to improve the attack. If the Royals can find a consistent scoring threat as they continue to develop their offense, they will become a team to be watched in the NWSL. Portland allows over a goal a game on average and has only kept one clean sheet in 2018. URFC will have opportunities to score and taking advantage of them will be key.
  2. Continue to be who they are defensively. There is no reason to expect anything different from the team that is leading most of the NWSL’s defensive stats. They are dominant on the defensive side of the ball, and I expect that to continue due to coach Laura Harvey’s system. Continued defensive dominance will afford the Royals the opportunity to perhaps win some games they might otherwise not be expected to win.