Two weeks after securing a first home playoff game in club history, Portland Thorns FC are going after another club-first on Sunday against Sky Blue FC. With a win or a draw, Thorns FC could top the NWSL table to take the 2016 NWSL Shield and clinch the top seed heading into the playoffs.
Portland comes into the match off a thrilling 3-2 win over the Western New York Flash at Providence Park. Forward Nadia Nadim scored her team-leading ninth goal of the season to open the scoring in the first half, followed by Christine Sinclair’s third in three matches just before halftime. Midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir made it 3-0 in the 69th minute before the Flash mounted a late comeback that fell short. Midfielder Tobin Heath registered her league-leading ninth assist in the match.
Sky Blue have just pride to play for, though denying Portland the regular-season title would be the best way to send out their fans for the 2016 season. Sky Blue will also be lifted by the fact that in four matches at home against the Thorns, Sky Blue has never lost, posting a 2-0-2 record. In fact, all-time Sky Blue edges Portland head-to-head with a record of 5-3-2. Forward Samantha Kerr has scored in four consecutive matches, including a 2-1 comeback win over the Orlando Pride last time out. Sky Blue have a chance to beat Seattle Reign FC to fifth place with a win against Thorns FC.
The Thorns head to New Jersey with the aim of maintaining the momentum from a strong three-game home stand just before a week long international break. Head coach Mark Parsons will have the delicate task of managing player fitness and match sharpness in order to keep players fresh ahead of the clearly higher priority Oct. 2 NWSL semi-final.
With results from Saturday, Portland’s fate is in their own hands. League leaders Washington Spirit fell 3-1 to the Chicago Red Stars, leaving the opportunity for the Thorns to snatch the regular-season crown on the final day. Though a tie against Sky Blue would leave Portland and Washington level on points, Thorns FC holds the better head-to-head record against the Spirit, which is the first tiebreak in the NWSL. Chicago’s win also locked the third and fourth playoff spots, with Chicago taking the three seed and Western New York taking fourth. Should Portland take the first seed, they will host Western New York on Oct. 2. A second-place finish to the regular season would see the Red Stars make the trip to Providence Park.
Sunday’s kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. (Pacific) with a live-stream available on YouTube and ThornsFC.com.