With the NWSL Championship now in sight, the Portland Thorns take on FC Kansas City in Saturday’s playoff semifinal (11am PT, FOX Sports 2, Webstream: FOXSoccer2Go.com free trial). Find out everything you need to know about the match-up.
Cindy Parlow Cone’s team has been busy preparing for what will be their fifth meeting with a side who finished one place ahead of them in the league following a hectic regular season.
The showdown at the Shawnee Mission District Stadium should be a tight encounter with a place in the NWSL Championship final at stake, so here is a look at what the Thorns can expect.
FC Kansas City – Regular Season Record
Games Played 38
Goals For 34
Goals Against 22
Path to the Playoffs
It took only three minutes in the April 13 season opener for Kansas to show how they dangerous they can be as Renae Cuellar fired in the first goal of the NWSL. Unfortunately for the Thorns, they were the team who conceded that goal, but they did hit back to earn a deserved tie. From there, however, Kansas kicked on with only one defeat before they met the Thorns again in June. They proved to be a strong team throughout the season and did not suffer back-to-back losses until the final two games when they had already secured a playoff spot.
Kansas is the type of team that ticks every box with an excellent goalkeeper in Nicole Barnhart, one of the best defenders in the NWSL in Becky Sauerbrunn, the league Rookie of the Year in Erika Tymrak, and the top scorer in Lauren Holiday. Right through the spine of their team, they have players who make a difference in big games and if you ally that with a slick, counter-attacking style of play, you have a team that can be ruthless in attack and stern in defense.
Head coach Vlatko Andonovski has done a fine job in not only finding the right balance with the players available to him, but also challenging them to keep improving. An example of that would be Tymrak, who entered the season as a player with a lot of talent, but ended it with six goals, four assists and a call-up to the USWNT. Normally set up in a 4-4-2 system, they rely on their midfielders to drive forward and the target for most of their attacks is Holiday, but they are strong at the back too, which makes them an all-round team.
Head to Head
Lauren Holiday vs Rachel Buehler
Thorns defender Buehler is going to have a tough job keeping track of Holiday, who has been outstanding all year for Kansas and recently picked up the NWSL Golden Boot award for her 12 regular season goals. And this match-up could ultimately determine who progresses through to the Championship game because stopping Kansas’ main goal threat would give the Thorns a huge advantage in a game where there should be very little between the two teams. Buehler, though, must be wary of Holiday dropping deep and trying to unload shots from distance, but the experienced defender will know how best to handle her USWNT colleague.
Previous Meetings with Thorns
April 13 – FC Kansas City 1-1 Portland Thorns, Shawnee Mission District Stadium
A penalty kick from Christine Sinclair ensured the Thorns escaped from this season opener with a point after Cuellar had put Kansas ahead early on. After a slow start, the Thorns shifted up a gear and showed flashes of the attacking soccer that would come once they found their groove and the games stacked up.
June 6 – Portland Thorns 4-3 FC Kansas City, JELD-WEN Field
This game probably summed up both teams more than any other as their insistence on playing on the front foot led to seven goals being scored. Alex Morgan, Courtney Wetzel, Danielle Foxhoven and Allie Long all converted for the Thorns, while the visitors saw Lauren Holiday grab a brace and Erika Tymrak also score.
June 30 – FC Kansas City 2-0 Portland Thorns, Shawnee Mission District Stadium
A first defeat on the road stung for the Thorns, because it wasn’t as if they were completely outplayed in this game, they just couldn’t find the back of the net. Goals from Holiday and Merritt Mathias swung it for Kansas, who had goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart to thank for making five important saves.
August 4 – Portland Thorns 2-3 FC Kansas City, JELD-WEN Field
In the last meeting between the teams, Holiday, again, proved to be the difference as she opened the scoring and netted again after Danielle Foxhoven had hit back. Then Kristie Mewis got in on the act before Alex Morgan scored late on. It was a hectic game and the record crowd of 17,619 was certainly kept on the edge of their seats.
How to Beat Them
The best way for the Thorns to get past Kansas is by playing their own game. If Cone’s team focuses too much on stopping the opposition, then they will limit themselves from doing what they do best – hurting teams with their quick passing and positive attacking. If Allie Long can get things started in midfield, then the service should flood into the Thorns forwards and that would put Kansas on the backfoot and force them to defend.
Of course, Portland will definitely keep track of players like Holiday, Tymrak, Mewis, Desiree Scott and Melissa Henderson, because they can all be game-winners. But it is about finding the right balance in stopping your opponent and overawing them that will put the Thorns in a position to reach that Championship game, where either Western New York Flash or Sky Blue FC will be the opposition.