The Chicago Red Stars have made five consecutive trips to the post season in their National Women's Soccer League history but have failed to move on from the semi-final stage every time. Tomorrow, they welcome Portland Thorns FC to SeatGeek Stadium as they look to end that run of one-and-done matches in the NWSL Playoffs.
Portland themselves are very familiar with the playoff stage and despite coming into this weekend with some worrying form, they still remain the favourites to win this game.
Someone other than Kerr needs to step up
When you have someone as effective as Samantha Kerr in your lineup, the tendency is to get the ball as often as possible and let her do the rest. What Chicago have failed to do this season is have another player step up when Kerr has been marked out of a game. Other teams in the league have used that tactic to varying degrees and it has posed problems for the Red Stars.
Yuki Nagasato has stepped up and led the league in assists during the regular season but needs to contribute more in front of goal. The Red Stars midfield, while great on the ball, has also not chipped in with as many goals as you would expect from players like Vanessa DiBernardo and Morgan Brian. Against the Thorns, players like Nagasato and DiBernardo will have to move into the gaps left behind when the Thorns center around Kerr and take advantage of whatever chances fall their way.
The Thorns need to score more goals
Up until over two months ago, the Portland Thorns had been rolling towards the playoffs but after a energy-sapping defeat to Utah Royals FC, the Thorns failed to pick up wins until their match against the Houston Dash. During that five game run, they also lost heavily to rivals Reign FC and the North Carolina Courage and the reason for that bad run was the lack of goals. Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair have fallen away from their usual high standards and it has been at the root of the Thorns offensive woes. If those three players can find their magic again against Chicago, Portland will win but if they don't, the Thorns will be packing their bags and going him earlier than expected.
The Thorns defense for most of the season had been rock solid but has recently shown a frailty to them that other teams have exploited. With their forwards now misfiring, the defense has come under even more pressure and has failed to stand up to that pressure. Up against someone as explosive as Kerr, the Portland defense needs to be better or they may witness another crushing defeat in their season which ends their playoff run.