PORTLAND, Ore. – When Thorns FC take the field at Providence Park on Sunday in the 2016 NWSL Playoff semi-final (2:00pm PT, FS1, Presented by Tillamook Ice Cream), it will mark the first home playoff match in franchise history.
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With that comes raised expectations. But if this team is feeling any of that, neither players nor coaches are showing it.
“The pressure's been there and this game has pressure around it,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons acknowledged. “[But] I think we've felt the same pressure all year.”
“I don't feel any pressure in this situation,” added midfielder Allie Long. “I feel that I have confidence that this team – if we're at our best and if we're playing our best and we're playing soccer and we all have similar soccer brains where we want to play together, where we want to play the same style – [will] be perfectly fine if we come out to play and I think everyone will.”
That's exactly what the Thorns did in each of their final four regular season matches. After a loss on the road against Seattle Reign FC, the Thorns rebounded with dominant performances at home against the Boston Breakers and Houston Dash, while holding off playoff opponent Western New York Flash and going on the road to clinch the NWSL Shield with a commanding 3-1 victory against Sky Blue FC.
Thorns midfielder Lindsey Horan says that these are the performances of a team that has begun to click with one another at precisely the right time.
“So many of the players on this team are very soccer-minded in that [they are] just smart and intelligent in the way they play,” said Horan. “The chemistry is awesome...We all just want to play. We want to show this city pretty soccer and that's what we're doing and that's really cool.”
This recent run of form, when combined with the ability to host Sunday's playoff semifinal, has both players and staff feeling confident that they can put together yet another strong performance, this one mattering more than any other match this season.
“To bring the playoff game, to bring the Shield to Portland is so important. We're so proud,” Parsons said. “But unfortunately we can't celebrate. We have so much more to achieve and that starts Sunday.”
“It's [a] huge [advantage],” Horan said of playing at Providence Park where Portland posted and 8-1-1 record in 2016. “I think our fans are really going to help us with that – just having that intensity and putting the pressure on the other team, having screaming fans all over the place.”
Long, who has been with the organization since the club’s founding in 2013, knows more than almost anyone else on the team how significant it is to host this match in Portland.
“We've been trying for the past four years and that's been a goal. It's something that we want to give the fans, we want to give the city, we want to give the organization,” said Long. “We're so happy to play at home. I think that the fans deserve it and we play our best soccer here.”
Meanwhile Horan, who is enjoying her first season with the Thorns after having spent the past several years playing professionally in France, added her own perspective on the unique soccer culture that's developed here in Portland.
“This is such a cool culture here in Portland and everyone is so intense,” she said. “It's like we have another player on the field. It's just exciting thinking about playing a semifinal match here in Portland.
“It's going to be unreal.”