NWSL Playoffs Match Preview: FC Kansas City vs. Portland Thorns FC - Aug. 24, 2013

Matchday Preview, Thorns @ FCKC, 2013 NWSL Playoffs, 8.24.13

Date: Saturday, August 24, 2013 Kickoff: 11 a.m. (Pacific)
Location: Verizon Wireless Field (Overland Park, Kan.)
Forecast: 91 degrees, chance of Thunderstorms

Referee: Christina Unkel Assistant Referees: Felisha Mariscal, Jennifer Jones
Fourth Official: Kara Honthumb

National TV: FOX Sports 2 / FOXSoccer2Go
Talent: Steve Cangialosi (play-by-play), Kyndra de St. Aubin (analyst), Heather Mitts (sideline)

Like many teams in the National Women’s Soccer League, Thorns FC went through ups and downs during the regular season, but one thing remained consistent - Portland was never far from the top spot in the league standings. After opening the year with a five-game unbeaten streak, Thorns FC went on to suffer just two losses in the first half of the season. Portland entered the midway point in the 22-game regular season with an 8-2-1 overall record.

Playing six of their last 11 games on the road, Thorns FC lost consecutive games for the first time June 30-July 6. Despite finishing the second half of the season with a 3-4-4 record, Thorns FC locked up the No. 3 seed in the playoffs - finishing tied on points (38) with No. 1 Western New York and No. 2 FC Kansas City and two points ahead of No. 4 Sky Blue FC in a tight race for playoff seeding. Clinching a postseason berth with two weeks left in the regluar season, Thorns FC finished on a high note, earning a shutout in a scoreless draw at Western New York and a 2-1 win over Seattle Reign FC.

Forward Christine Sinclair netted four goals over the final six games, while midfielder Tobin Heath added three assists in seven games after joining the team in mid-July. Forward Alex Morgan ended the year as the team’s points leader (21) with eight goals and five assists, while goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc collected seven shutouts and 92 saves in 21 games.

Matchday Preview
Saturday’s National Women’s Soccer League playoff semifinal match marks the fifth meeting between Portland Thorns FC and FC Kansas City during the 2013 NWSL season. The clubs met four times during the regular season, playing each other twice at home and on the road. Kicking off the inaugural season on April 13, Thorns FC earned a come-from-behind, 1-1 draw at FC Kansas City. Overall, Portland registered a 1-2-1 record against the Blues in the regular season.

The two clubs combined to score 16 goals during their four matches, including seven goals in a 4-3 win for Portland on June 6 at JELD-WEN Field. In the regular-season, home finale for Thorns FC, FC Kansas City earned a 3-2 win before an NWSL-record crowd of 17,619 fans at JELD-WEN Field. Saturday’s playoff match will be the second nationally televised game between the two teams this year.

Last Match vs. FC Kansas City
Forwards Danielle Foxhoven and Alex Morgan tallied goals in the second
half, but a late comeback attempt fell short as Thorns FC suffered a 3-2
loss against FC Kansas City before a record-setting crowd of 17,619 fans at JELD-WEN Field on Aug. 4 in the regular-season, home finale. The attendance for the team’s regular-season home finale was the largest in the inaugural season of the National Women’s Soccer League, topping Portland’s previous mark of 16,479 set against Seattle Reign FC in the home opener on April 21 at JELD-WEN Field. FC Kansas City took a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute on a goal by midfielder Lauren Holiday before Foxhoven equalized for Thorns FC in the 51st minute. Holiday scored again for FC Kansas City in the 55th and rookie defender Kristie Mewis tallied for the Blues in the 73rd minute. Morgan pulled one back for Portland in the 89th minute, but the late comeback attempt fell short.

Scouting FC Kansas City
Ranked first in the league for much of the second half of the National Women’s Soccer League season, FC Kansas City dropped into the No. 2 seed in the playoffs after conceding a late game-winning goal against Chicago on the last day of
the regular season, allowing Western New York to jump into first place based on tiebreakers.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s team has collected several awards including
the NWSL Rookie of the Year (Erika Tymrak), NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year (Nicole Barnhart) and NWSL Defender of the Year (Becky Sauerbrunn). Midfielder/forward Lauren Holiday won the league’s Golden Boot, finishing the regular season with a league-high 12 goals. Holiday also finished first in the league with nine assists. Tymrak ended the season second on the team with six goals. Barnhart ranked third in the league with an 0.95 goals-against average and an NWSL-best 10 shutouts.

Thorns Earn 2-1 Win at Seattle Reign FC
Forward Christine Sinclair registered a brace to lead Thorns FC to a come-from- behind, 2-1 win over Seattle Reign FC in the regular-season finale before a sellout crowd of 3,855 at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Wash., on Aug. 17. After conceding the game’s opening goal to Seattle forward Megan Rapinoe in the third minute, Sinclair responded with a goal in each half to record her second brace of the season for Thorns FC. Sinclair netted the game-winning goal in the 83rd minute to finish the regular season tied for the team high with eight goals. Midfielder Allie Long provided the assist on Sinclair’s game-tying goal in the eighth minute, threading a through pass down the middle of the field. Sinclair collected the pass and took a touch around Seattle goalkeeper Hope Solo before firing into the open net. On the game-winning tally, forward Tiffany Weimer earned the assist with a lofted pass over the top of the defense.

Busy August Schedule
Saturday’s match marks the fourth game in three weeks during the month of August for Thorns FC. It is also Portland’s seventh game in 28 days since July 28. The NWSL playoff semifinal match against FC Kansas City marks the fourth straight road game for Thorns FC.

Iron Women
Thorns FC midfielder Allie Long and defender Kathryn Williamson rank among the top 10 players in the league in terms of minutes played. Long, who finished the regular season with a team-high 1,956 minutes, ranks fifth among field players in the NWSL. Williamson, a rookie center back, is second on the team and eighth in the league with 1,944. Williamson pieced together a team-long streak of 1,871 consecutive minutes played from April 13 to Aug. 10.

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 21 games and played 1,890 minutes, including a streak of 1,170 consecutive minutes in goal. LeBlanc ranks second in the league with 92 saves and third with seven shutouts. LeBlanc’s 11 wins ranks first in the NWSL.

Reliable Defensive Corps
Through 22 regular-season games, 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 22 games, as Williamson (a rookie) ranks first among defenders with 1,944 minutes played. Marshall ranks third (among field players) on the team in minutes played (1,871). Buehler has missed two matches, both for international duty, while Dougherty missed three games.

Among League Leaders
Despite missing four matches in the regular season, Thorns FC forward Alex Morgan ranks first in the NWSL in shots (82) and shots on goal (44), while placing 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.

On the Road
Despite massive support at home, Thorns FC have compiled the best road record in the NWSL in 11 away matches this season. With a road record of 6-2-3 (.636), Portland has conceded a paltry eight goals on the road this season, ranking first in the NWSL in road defense with a 0.72 road goals-against average. The Western New York Flash have conceded 13 goals in 11 road games (1.18 road goals-against average), while No. 2 seed 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.

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 be- hind the 2001 Washington Freedom (14,421). When placed alongside Major League Soccer atten- dance 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 (13,635) 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).