PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Thorns FC head coach Mark Parsons describes it as a “massive gift to the greatest fans in the world.”
Last Sunday, the Thorns clinched the first NWSL home playoff match in franchise history by defeating the visiting Western New York Flash 3-2 behind goals from Christine Sinclair, Allie Long, and Dagny Brynjarsdottir.
“We have the best fans and they deserve a home playoff game,” Sinclair said after training on Wednesday. “Obviously, seeing the crowd we had the other night, we're looking to replicate that and have another party here.”
First though, the Thorns have some unfinished business.
The team currently sits in second place in the NWSL table, just one point behind the league-leading Washington Spirit. Should the Spirit fail to defeat the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, the Thorns will have the opportunity to win the NWSL Shield with a road victory over Sky Blue FC.
But even if the Thorns are unable to secure the Shield – something that remains contingent on the Red Stars game – the team knows that a strong run of form this late in the season will help them in their quest for the ultimate prize: the NWSL championship trophy.
“We're in a position now where we're really growing as a group and as a team,” said Parsons. “We're getting more time around each other. I think it's great timing to head into this last league game.”
Evidence of the team's cohesion can be found in the Thorns' recent run of three consecutive home wins. In each of the Thorns' last two matches, the team has successfully controlled the pace and rhythm, possessing the ball out of the back and waiting patiently for their opportunities to strike against their high-pressing opponents.
Ahead of the Sky Blue FC match, Parsons wants his team to focus on maintaining this good run of form while also playing for a chance at the Shield.
“Right now...we're in a league game where it has a huge possibility of meaning even more to the club if we get the result Saturday night with the Washington Spirit [against the Chicago Red Stars],” Parsons said. “[If that happens] we could be in a position to win the Shield and make more history. So our focus right now is firmly on that.”
That doesn't mean, however, that Parson and the players haven't thought about what that home playoff game will be like on October 2.
“It's just something different stepping out onto this field every single day,” said Thorns defender Emily Menges. “We practice here. We know the field. It's the perfect size for our team; we like to play [and] we like to spread out. More than anything, it's the energy [from the fans]. You almost can't let them down. We feed off of their energy.”
It's about giving something back to the Thorns fans, Menges said, “because they give so much to us every single day.”
Her coach concurred, pointing out that it's the character and personality of the fans, not their number, that has made them such a critical part of this franchise's success.
“The quantity is not what's special about these fans,” he said. “But it's the passion and the personal connection that they make with the players and the feelings that they put into everything. It's easy to point at the 21,000 [fans in attendance at the last home match]...but it's more than that. It's very personal and the players feel it.”
On October 2, that passion and energy will be on full display inside Providence Park when the Thorns host their NWSL opponent in a semifinal match that the team hopes is just one more step along their path to the franchise's second championship title.