While Portland Thorns head coach Mark Parsons expressed pride when asked on Sunday about his team clinching a fourth-straight place in the National Women's Soccer League postseason, he was also clear about the team's bigger objectives, and how those have always played a bigger part in defining Portland's 2019 season.
"One of the objectives that we set was making the playoffs, so it's good to reach one of those," Parsons said," but, look, this (season) was always going to be about winning (NWSL) Shields and winning Championships."
Portland took one step toward their next objectives with Saturday's 1-0 victory over the Houston Dash, a win that helped locked up the team's place in the postseason. Thanks to home losses by both the fourth-place Utah Royals (to North Carolina, 3-0) and fifth-place Reign FC (to Sky Blue FC, 1-0), only one of the two pursuing teams can catch Portland. Utah and the Reign will face each other this Wednesday, depriving at least one team of the points they'd need to track down Portland.
For the Thorns to achieve their next goal, however -- a fourth-straight home semifinal -- they may need to win each of their final two games: on the road against Reign FC next weekend and, after an international break, at home against the Washington Spirit.
"It's great, one goal has been ticked, but a home playoff game is what we're hunting for, right now," Parsons said. "We've got two games left, and we need two massive performances -- two big results -- to guarantee us what we want."
The Chicago Red Stars currently sit in second place, two points ahead of the Thorns. Chicago, however, will end their season next weekend when they host Utah. With an odd number of teams in the league, one squad has to sit out the season finales on October 12. Chicago is that squad.
As a result, the Thorns control their own home-playoff destiny. The teams that finish one-two in the NWSL get to host semifinal playoffs ahead of the championship game in Cary, North Carolina, on October 27. Chicago can reach a maximum of 44 points. With two victories, the Thorns would max out at 45.
"Right now," Parsons explained, "earning a home playoff game gives us what we believe is a great opportunity for success in a semifinal … And from there, we can make a run at a championship game we feel that we can do some damage in.