The sports pessimist in me doesn't want to make too big a deal of the Thorns' (9-4-3, 30 pts) recent successes, but it's hard to ignore the team's improvement in the last two games. Portland comes into Sunday's match on a two-game streak of results, with a 1-1 draw (in which they played quite well) at home against the Western New York Flash, and one win (in which they played fairly well, with encouraging flashes) in last week's come-from-behind 2-1 road victory against the Boston Breakers.
Portland's pattern this year can be termed "inconsistent" if one is being polite, and "often downright shitty" if one is being a bit more candid. Either way, a two-game non-loss streak does not a turnaround make. It does, however, allow for a smidge of optimism concerning Sunday's match against the Chicago Red Stars (6-7-4, 22 pts).
Chicago, meanwhile, has found some semblance of form. The team started the season 0-4-2, but since then has gone 6-2-2. Although the Red Stars dropped last Thursday's game against the Seattle Reign 4-1 in Seattle, Chicago finds itself still in the playoff hunt, five points behind the Flash for the fourth and final playoff spot with five games remaining.
Long story short: The Thorns should win this game. More importantly, the Thorns need to win this game, considering the constant jockeying for playoff positioning in the latter stages of the NWSL's inaugural season. But Chicago has something to fight for, and this is a team that can strike.
What to Worry About
Lori Chalupny: The midfielder leads her team with five goals (just one fewer than Portland star Alex Morgan). She ain't afraid to pull the trigger.
The midfield in general: Sans any U.S. allocated players, the Red Stars lack some star power, and this is no more noticeable than in a front line that has struggled to score. But this is countered by a strong and aggressive midfield, led by Chalupny. As we know, the most inconsistent element of the Thorns has been the midfield, which has been prone to ball-watching and needless giveaways. Will Tobin Heath's influence prove the tonic?
What to Be Encouraged By
This is the fourth and final meeting of these two teams. Portland won the first two, both times by scores of 2-0, before losing in an embarrassing fashion in a 2-0 loss at JELD-WEN, a game in which the allocated players were gone on international duty. For the most part, the the Thorns have dominated this series
Stat You Can Interpret However You'd Like
All three previous games between these two teams have ended in a score of 2-0.