NWSL Match Preview: Seattle Reign FC vs. Portland Thorns FC - August 17, 2013

Thorns finish 2013 regular season with Cascadia clash in Seattle

MATCH INFORMATION
Date: Saturday, August 17, 2013
Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. (Pacific)
Location: Starfire Sports Complex (Tukwila, WA)
Forecast: 73 degrees, mostly cloudy
Referee: Christina Unkel
Assistant Referees: Adrienne McDonald, Ronald Lagraff
Fourth Official: Farhad Dadkho
Webstream available via www.portlandthornsfc.com.
 
Saturday’s match marks the conclusion of the regular season for both Portland Thorns FC and Seattle Reign FC. The two Pacific Northwest clubs meet for the fourth time this season, with Thorns FC leading the season series with a 3-0-0 record. With just one win in their last five games, Thorns FC must win or draw against Seattle to have a chance at hosting a home semifinal playoff game on Saturday, Aug. 24.
 
Thorns FC enters Saturday’s match following a scoreless draw against the Western New York Flash on Aug. 10. Goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc made a season-high 10 saves as Thorns FC earned their seventh shutout of the season.
 
Seattle Reign FC have suffered three straight losses (all on the road), but enter Saturday’s match carrying a five-game unbeaten streak at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Wash. Head coach Laura Harvey’s squad most recently suffered a 1-0 loss at Washington on Aug. 10.
 
Last Match vs. Seattle Reign FC
Forward Danielle Foxhoven and midfielder Meleana Shim each scored goals in the second half to help guide Thorns FC to a 2-0 win over Seattle Reign FC on June 16 before 13,802 fans at JELD-WEN Field. Foxhoven netted her second goal in as many games with a curling strike in the 48th minute and Shim recorded her first professional goal and assist for Portland. Thorns FC played without forwards Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair and defender Rachel Buehler due to international duty. Reign FC earned a late penalty kick following a handball by Thorns FC defender Nikki Marshall in the penalty box. Goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc saved Christine Nairn’s attempt, diving to her right to preserve the shutout. The result extended Seattle’s winless streak to 10 games, despite outshooting Portland 15-14 during the match.
 
Scouting Seattle Reign FC
After starting the year with a 12-game winless streak, Seattle Reign FC received support in the form of midfielder Megan Rapinoe, goalkeeper Hope Solo and defender Stephanie Cox. Since Rapinoe’s first appearance on June 23, head coach Laura Harvey’s side has gone 5-4-1 and is in seventh place in the eight-team league.

Rapinoe is tied for the team lead with four goals, along with Welsh international Jessica Fishlock, while rookie midfielder/forward Christine Nairn has recorded three goals and five assists. Defender Jessica McDonald and Canadian midfielder Kaylyn Kyle have each registered three goals for Seattle.

Seattle is 4-0-1 over its last five matches at home, including a 3-2 win over playoff-bound Western New York and a 1-1 draw against the fifth-place Boston Breakers.

Thorns FC Earn Draw at Western NY
Goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc made a season-high 10 saves, including five in each half, as Thorns FC battled to a scoreless draw with the Western New York Flash before 7,606 fans at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, N.Y., on Aug. 10. LeBlanc registered her seventh shutout of the season, coming up with a late save on a long-distance free kick by Flash defender Brittany Taylor in second-half stoppage time. A Canadian international, LeBlanc also helped keep Western New York forward Abby Wambach in check with saves in the ninth and 59th minutes. Playing without leading scorer Alex Morgan, who sustained a mild MCL sprain in her left knee against Boston on Aug. 7, Thorns FC registered seven shots (3 on goal). All three shots on goal came in the second half, as midfielder Tobin Heath provided two of the team’s best scoring chances in the 54th and 72nd minutes.

Playoff Seeding
After clinching a berth in the postseason on Aug. 7, Thorns FC are locked
into a tight battle for seeding in the NWSL Playoffs. Tied on points (35) with Western New York and Sky Blue FC, Thorns FC are currently seeded third after tiebreakers are applied (with Western New York second and Sky Blue FC fourth). All four NWSL matches this weekend are critical for teams seeking to lock up one of the top two spots and a home playoff game. The top two seeds host semifinal matches on Aug. 24, while the highest seeded team to reach the final will host the championship on Aug. 31. In order for Thorns FC to earn the No. 2 seed, they must win on Saturday and hope for a Western New York loss or draw on Saturday and a Sky Blue FC loss or draw on Sunday. A draw, coupled with losses by the Flash and Sky Blue FC is another scenario.

Injury Update
Thorns FC forward Alex Morgan sustained a mild MCL sprain in her left knee in the opening minutes of a 2-1 loss at the Boston Breakers on Aug. 7. The forward, who leads Thorns FC with 21 points (8g, 5a), is expected to miss between 2-4 weeks.

On the Road
Despite massive support at home, Thorns FC have compiled the best road record in the NWSL through 10 away matches this season. With a road record of 5-2-3 (.650), Portland has conceded a paltry seven goals on the road this season, ranking first in the NWSL in road defense with a 0.70 road goals-against average. The Western New York Flash have conceded 13 goals in 11 road games (1.18 road goals-against average), while league-leader FC Kansas City has yielded 15 goals in 11 road games (1.36 road goals-against average). Thorns FC have registered five of their seven shutouts on the road in 2013, including a scoreless draw against the Flash on Aug. 10.

Iron Women
Thorns FC defender Kathryn Williamson and midfielder Allie Long rank among the top 10 players in the league in terms of minutes played. Williamson, who had played every minute of every match until being subbed off in the 71st minute of a scoreless draw on Aug. 10 against Western New York leads the team and ranks seventh in the NWSL with 1,871 minutes played. Long is in eighth place in the league with 1,866 minutes played. Both players have started all 21 games.

Mainstay in Goal
Thorns FC goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc ranks second in the National Women’s Soccer League in minutes played among all goalkeepers. The Canadian international has appeared in 20 games and played 1,800 minutes, including a streak of 1,080 consecutive minutes in goal. LeBlanc ranks second in the league with 85 saves and third with seven shutouts. LeBlanc’s 10 wins is tied for first in the NWSL.

Busy August Schedule
Saturday’s match marks the fourth game in two weeks during the month of August for Thorns FC. It is also Portland’s sixth game in 21 days since July 28 to close out the 2013 NWSL regular season. Thorns FC will have a week off before a NWSL playoff semifinal match on Aug. 24 at a location to be determined.

Among League Leaders
Despite playing in 18 of 21 games, forward Alex Morgan ranks first in the NWSL in shots (82) and shots on goal (44), while ranking among leaders in overall points with 21 (8g, 5a). Morgan earned a point in four straight games from July 21-Aug. 4, the second time this season she has earned a point in four straight games.

Reliable Defensive Corps
Through 21 games this season, Portland’s back line of Nikki Marshall, Rachel Buehler, Kat Williamson and Marian Dougherty have proved to be a reliable group. Marshall and Williamson have started all 21 games, with Williamson (a rookie) leading the team in minutes played this season with 1,871. Marshall ranks third (among field players) on the team in minutes played (1,781). Buehler has missed two matches, both for international duty, while Dougherty missed three games.

Attendance In Context
Through 11 home games, Portland has earned an average attendance number of 13,320 at JELD- WEN Field. The number is impressive when put in larger context. In women’s professional soccer history in the United States, it ranks as the second-highest average regular-season attendance behind the 2001 Washington Freedom (14,421). When placed alongside Major League Soccer attendance numbers, Thorns FC draw larger average crowds than Chivas USA (8,670) and just slightly less than three other MLS clubs: D.C. United (13,577), New England (13,544) and Chicago (14,068). Worldwide based on 2012-13 attendance, Thorns FC have earned higher average attendance than seven men’s teams in the Dutch Eredivisie (Netherlands), five teams in Ligue 1 (France), three teams in Serie A (Italy) and England’s npower Championship (the step below the Premier League) and two teams in La Liga (Spain).