Both the Portland Thorns and the Chicago Red Stars have booked a spot in the postseason. The two clubs join the Orlando Pride and the North Carolina Courage for a chance to win the NWSL Championship in October. Up first, come the final week of the 2017 NWSL season, and the Portland versus Chicago matchup at Providence Park on Saturday could be a preview of what we could see on October 7 in the semifinals or depending on where Chicago places after this week and how the semifinals lineup, a potential Championship matchup.
National TV coverage begins on Lifetime at 2:30 p.m. ET with kickoff scheduled for 2:50 p.m. ET.
Two Teams Riding on Success
Chicago comes to Portland confident after clinching a playoff spot for their third consecutive year after their 3-2 victory over the Houston Dash. The Red Stars just needed a win against the Dash at BBVA Compass Stadium to extend their season into the playoffs. Goals by Jen Hoy, Casey Short, and Christen Press for Chicago gave them the win, and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher denied any further opportunities in the closing minutes for the Dash to make the comeback.
Portland could not break the 0-0 deadlock against the Orlando Pride last week, but Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch set a new shutout record as she recorded her 11th clean sheet of the season, breaking Nicole Barnhart's 2013 record. Franch helped the Thorns hold the Pride to a 0-0 draw after Orlando took 14 shots. In Week 20, The Thorns battled the Boston Breakers to a 1-0 victory to bring a playoff game to Providence Park where they are 9-1-1 for the season.
Portland is Chicago's Thorn
For Chicago, their history with the Thorns is one they would like to start changing, especially since they could potentially face Portland in the postseason. Their last victory over the Thorns was in 2013, and the two matchups between them earlier this season went in the Thorns' favor: a 1-0 victory in Portland and a 3-2 loss at home, which ended an eight-game home unbeaten streak for Chicago.
The Red Stars are 1-6-6 all-time against the Thorns, and they have been outscored 15-22.
For Chicago, Julie Ertz's move to center midfield this season has been one of the major reasons the Red Stars have stayed within the top four of the standings all season, allowing them to reach the postseason for the third year in a row. Ertz is a commanding presence at CM, controlling the middle third and creating chances in the final third as well as stepping to help at defense. A team like the Thorns will not easily intimidate Ertz.
Additionally, in nine matches against Portland, forward Christen Press has scored six goals for the Red Stars.
The Thorns are led by Canadian international Christine Sinclair who leads the team with eight goals, and she is also the Thorn's all-time leading scorer with 31 goals in the NWSL. Forwards Nadia Nadim and Hayley Raso have also added five goals and three assists each. Tobin Heath has also returned after being sidelined all season with a back injury. Chicago will have to look to contain the creative midfielder should Heath see substantive playing time.
With the playoffs in a week and in order to protect their key players from potential injury, head coaches Mark Parsons (Portland) and Rory Dames (Chicago) may make lineups changes to rest players and prepare for the postseason, or they may give them limited time to boost their confidence. Either way, both teams hope to end the season on a winning note.