FC Kansas City v Portland Thorns: Saturday, August 23, 2014 – 1:00 pm, Live on ESPN2
Holiday and the Blues will be looking to avenge a 3-2 home playoff loss at the same stage last season when FCKC stormed to a two-goal lead in the first 25 minutes through goals from midfielder Erika Tymrak and forward Melissa Henderson only to eventually lose following Thorns midfielder Allie Long’s game-winning goal in extra time.
Midfielder Tobin Heath ignited the comeback victory with a goal in the 33rd minute before forward Tiffany Weimer scored in the 65th to force extra time and set the stage for Long’s game winner in the 103rd and put Portland on the path to claim the 2013 NWSL Championship over the Western New York Flash.
But if Portland is to take down FC Kansas City this year, the Thorns will need to do something no team has been able to all season – beat the Blues at home.
FCKC comes into the contest boasting an undefeated 8-0-4 record at Verizon Wireless Field in 2014 – tied with Seattle Reign FC for the best home record.
The Thorns are 3-4-5 on their travels this season and have not won away from Providence Park since a 6-1 victory over the Washington Spirit on June 21. Following that rout, the defending champions went on a run of six road games without a win – starting with a 1-0 loss June 28 to FC Kansas City in the only previous match between the two sides at Verizon Wireless Field this year.
Despite that setback, Portland still claimed the season series with a 2-1-0 record against FCKC – including a 3-1 win April 26 and a 7-1 victory July 13 that set league records for most goals scored and largest margin of victory.
The six-goal thrashing was one of three games this season in which the Thorns scored more than five goals in a match. Still, Portland would not be in position to defend its title without the heroics of Morgan on the final day of the regular season.
The U.S. international headed home a 68th-minute corner delivered into the box by Long to score her sixth goal – and third game-winner – to go along with four assists in 14 games this season. Goalkeeper and Germany international Nadine Angerer made Morgan’s tally hold up with five saves to post her fourth shutout of the year.
The Thorns were given a boost with both Heath and defender Rachel Van Hollebeke returning to the starting lineup for the first time since suffering a sprained right knee and concussion symptoms, respectively.
Heath has yet to score in the five games she has played this season for Portland. However, a host of players have stepped up in her absence – including Long (9 goals, 3 assists), forwards Jessica McDonald (11 goals) and Christine Sinclair (7 goals), midfielder Veronica Boquete (4 goals, 6 assists) and defender Stephanie Catley (5 assists).
Stopping the Thorns offense – tied with FCKC for third in the league – has been a tough task all season and one that will fall to the No. 3 ranked defense led by U.S. internationals Becky Sauerbrunn and Nicole Barnhart.
Sauerbrunn, the 2013 NWSL Defender of the Year, and Barnhart, the 2013 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, continued their strong form in 2014.
Behind her backline of Sauerbrunn, Leigh Ann Robinson, Nikki Phillips and Merritt Mathias, Barnhart recorded a league-best eight shutouts – including in six consecutive starts, which included a scoreless streak of 587 minutes.
It was a defensive performance that served as the backbone of a seven-game winning streak from May 25 to July 6 that tied the NWSL record previously set earlier in the season by Seattle.
In addition to a strong defense, FC Kansas City’s attacking contingent of U.S. internationals has also been vital to the club’s success this season.
Holiday, the 2013 NWSL MVP, recorded eight goals and seven assists this season and forward Amy Rodriguez ranked second in the league with 13 goals, while forward Sarah Hagen (4 goals in 9 games) and Tymrak (4 goals, 4 assists) were also key contributors.
The Thorns and FC Kansas City are the only two teams that made the playoffs in 2013 to return to the postseason in 2014.
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