3:30 PM EST on Lifetime is where the first semifinal of the 2017 NWSL Playoffs will b shown as Portland Thorns FC host the Orlando Pride. The Thorns reached the semifinals last season but fell short to eventual champions, the Western New York Flash, and will be looking to do one better this time around. For Orlando, this is new ground for the organization, having not made the National Women's Soccer League playoffs before in their history. They will be considered underdogs in this match up but they, as much as anyone else, will know that anything can happen in soccer and they will look to cause the upset.
The Thorns will look to make the most of home field advantage
It didn't work for them last year but maybe this year will be different for the Thorns as they play at home once again in the semi-final. A sold-out stadium is expected in Portland as they watch their team battle with Orlando and head coach Mark Parsons will look to his team to use the crowd's energy to push them on. Parson's side comes into this game in good form, having only lost once in their last eleven games and looking to make tomorrow another win in their season.
To do that, players like Christine Sinclair, Lindsey Horan, Hayley Raso and Nadia Nadim will need to step up in a big way. There has also been rumors that Tobin Heath could make her first start of the season for the Thorns and if that's the case, Heath's ability will help Portland's chances tremendously.
In her absence, the players mentioned above have risen to the occasion and helped their team not only qualify for the playoffs but also finish second in the overall NWSL standings when the regular season ended. Defender Emily Menges deserves a mention as well because of how well Portland have defended this season. The Thorns have the best defense in the league, conceding the least amount of goals out of all the teams this season and Menges has been a key factor in that as well.
Orlando want to make history, starting with a win this weekend
For the Pride, getting to the playoffs has already changed the course of the club's history. Orlando had not finished as high as third or even in the playoffs since they first joined the league and now are looking at their first ever playoff game. They have those within their ranks who have played in big games both in the NWSL and internationally but this will be the first time they will be playing as the underdogs in a big game for many of them.
They will look to use that to their advantage and hopefully find a way to not only silence the home crowd but allow frustration to build if they can keep Portland quiet for most of the game. Head coach Tom Sermanni is someone who will not be afraid to use a defensive system if it means that he will get the result he wants so many can expect to see Orlando sit deep for most of the game.
Orlando will be without the services of influential midfielder Camila, who tore her ACL last week against the North Carolina Courage and while that is a big blow, in players like Marta, Alanna Kennedy, and Chioma Ubogagu, the Pride have offensive players that can make a difference on the field.
In defense, they can also look towards goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris who came back from injury and has looked in great form, keeping the NC Courage most recently out for most of the game due to her shot-stopping. Harris will have to be at her very best again when Orlando kick off against Portland tomorrow.
Prediction: Morgan vs Franch will be the ultimate decider
Alex Morgan has been in devastating form since returning from France and has undoubtedly helped push her team into the playoffs this year. The only time she has been shut out both in front of goal and as a creative force, was when the two teams last met a few weeks ago. Orlando has never won against Portland in all of their matchup and in the most recent game, Adrianna Franch was why Orlando came away with only a point from Providence Park.
When the playoffs start, these two players will look to outwit each other and depending on who wins that particular fight, could influence the overall result for both teams. It will be a tough but intriguing game for both sides, but if a winner had to be predicted, this could be the day for a fairy tale ending which sees Orlando come away with a big win.
Portland Thorns FC 2, Orlando Pride 3.