With one playoff game down, the Washington Spirit wait eagerly for Sunday’s match to find out who they will be facing in next week’s NWSL Championship. After clinching the NWSL Shield last weekend on the road, the Portland Thorns return back home to host the Western New York Flash in a 2013 NWSL Final rematch for the second playoff match of the 2016 season.
Portland strong all season
The Thorns took the top of the table this season with 41 points and a record of 12-3-5. They’ve come back from capping off the season with a 3-1 victory over Sky Blue FC last Sunday and return to Portland in preparation for the playoffs. This season the Thorns have only lost one game at home, tying one and winning eight. Home field advantage is on Portland’s side, and if they can keep the momentum going Sunday afternoon looks to be in their favor.
NWSL Player of the Month Allie Long will be one of the biggest parts of Portland’s attack, being able to create and find her teammates in the Thorns’ attacking third more often than not. Other attacking players to look for will be Nadia Nadim who has nine goals on the season, Tobin Heath with ten assists to her name despite being away from national team duty for a large chunk of the season and attacking youngsters Lindsey Horan and Dagny Brynjarsdottir. As last line of defense, Michelle Betos anchors Portland with seven shutouts on the season and a 1.14 Goals Against Average. This is the strongest the Thorns have looked as of late, and with threats like this former Thorns coach Paul Riley will have a lot to look out for with the Championship in their sights.
Western New York surprising the league
In the first few weeks of the season it would have been shocking for anyone to predict the Flash making it to playoffs this season. Now here they are, 32 points for the season and making their first appearance in a postseason match since 2013. They finished off regular season play with a 4-0 win over last place Boston Breakers and have a record of 3-3-4 on the road. The Flash have a tendency to surprise everyone in the league, and it’s likely they could take away the final championship spot this season - especially with the team Riley has built since taking over as head coach.
Western New York forward Lynn Williams has claimed the NWSL Golden Boot this season with 11 goals, and her counterpart Jess McDonald wasn’t too far behind with 10. The duo is deadly when left unmarked, and has been known to punish backlines by finding the back of the net. Samantha Mewis has become a constant in the Flash lineups, and has five goals to her name this season. She’s slowly transitioning into a veteran player for the Flash, and is the most composed player in the midfield for them. These three, along with players such as Mackenzy Doniak and Taylor Smith, will test Portland’s back line and is more than ready to pounce on any given mistake.
The Portland Thorns host the Western New York Flash at Providence Park on Sunday, October 2. Kick off will be at 5pm Eastern Time and will be aired on Fox Sports 1.