Sitting just a point off the fourth and final playoff spot, Portland Thorns FC plays host to the Chicago Red Stars for the second and final meeting between the two sides in the 2015 NWSL regular season. Portland is looking for a first win in five matches against the Red Stars, a streak that has seen five-straight draws between the two clubs.
In their last meeting, Portland rallied from a two-goal deficit to earn a 2-2 draw after forward Christen Press scored two goals inside ten minutes. Christine Sinclair pulled one back just before the half-hour mark, while Mana Shim tallied the equalizer two minutes after halftime. Portland heads into the match knowing that Pres will be a threat, but also the team will need to figure out how to break the defense of U.S. Women’s National Team standout Julie Johnston.
"It’s all about mobility really," said head coach Paul Riley after training on Saturday. "If we can move her around the place, get her pulled into the midfield chasing players and just pulled out of position… then take advantage of that space."
Portland (5-6-4, 19 pts) is coming off their highest-scoring game of the season so far, a 5-2 win over the Boston Breakers last Wednesday. Four different Thorns tallied goals with McCall Zerboni scoring her first two goals for Portland with a brace and Jodie Taylor registering her first for the Rose City club. Shim came in as a second half sub to score, while Allie Long became the first-ever Thorns player to reach double digits in goals and assists with her 10th career goal. Sinclair was a key contributor with two assists on the night. However, individual performances aren’t the only thing helping the Thorns make a late run to the playoffs.
"Each person has had to step it up," said Shim on Saturday. "You do see individual performances and people scoring goals, but I think it’s everybody else doing the work… that’s allowed everyone to lift their level just a little bit more."
Chicago (7-1-6, 27pts) played to a 2-2 draw with FC Kansas City on Saturday, August 1st in their last match. Press opened the scoring in the 12th minute, though Kansas City tied the match in the 35th through Amy LePeilbet. Press restored Chicago’s lead in the 74th with a bending ball into the upper right corner, but Kansas City would secure a point through Sarah Hagen in the 87th minute.
The Thorns will welcome the arrival and availability of midfielder Lianne Sanderson, who joined the club early this week after a trade with Seattle Reign FC. Riley said on Saturday that Sanderson would be in the squad and available for selection against the Red Stars. Sanderson trained with the squad for the first time on Saturday, along with forward Alex Morgan who is recovering from knee surgery following the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
"[Sanderson]’s smooth on the ball, fits in with the footballer’s we’ve got and plays the same kind of style I like to play," Riley said. "I think she’ll be a good fit for us… She’s got a great soccer I.Q."
The Thorns have five games remaining and 15 points left to play for to reach their third-straight NWSL postseason. Following Sunday’s match the team jets off for a midweek road clash with FC Kansas City.