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Thorns batten down hatches heading to KC

Alex Morgan hopes to overcome injury, play in semifinal


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Portland Thorns FC standout Alex Morgan celebrates her goal against Seattle in the season opener. Morgan hopes to overcome an injury in time for Saturdays playoff game at FC Kansas City.On Tuesday afternoon, Portland Thorns FC striker Alex Morgan dribbled down the pitch at Jeld-Wen Field. Her touch and quality on the ball was apparent. Morgan’s heralded speed was not.

With the thick knee brace on her left leg glimmering in the sun, Morgan looked a long way from being ready to play at 100 percent in Saturday’s 11 a.m. PT road playoff match against FC Kansas City.

Morgan is desperately trying to recover from the medial collateral ligament sprain she suffered against the Boston Breakers on Aug. 7. But time is running out for the Thorns’ co-leading goal scorer.

“Today was the first day that I tried to participate in the warm-up, did some dribbling, some juggling, a little of passing,” said Morgan, who tied teammate Christine Sinclair with eight goals during the National Women’s Soccer League season that ended last weekend and scored twice against KC.

“Five days ago, I couldn’t really run,” Morgan said. “Having it progress that quickly in five days, I’m feeling like it’s a good possibility (that I’ll play). But we’ll have to assess it the day before the game and make a last-minute decision.”

Morgan said she was not too worried about her long-term health if she takes the field when the third-seeded Thorns (11-6-5, 38 points) take on No. 2 KC, who had the same record in the regular season.

“I know that long-term, I’m probably not going to be able to walk when I’m 50,” Morgan said, smiling.

Being in top shape is the criteria for Morgan to play. “I don’t think it would be smart to put me on the field if I’m not 100 percent, especially with the way I play,” she said. “I need to cut, I need to accelerate, de-celerate, play with a fast pace. I’m hoping that I’ll be 100 percent, but if I’m not, I will be for the final.”

Kansas City won the regular-season series 2-1-1, behind midfielder Lauren Holiday (formerly Lauren Cheney). Of her league-leading 12 goals this season, four came against the Thorns.

“Maybe we haven’t done enough to change our tactics against her,” Thorns defender Rachel Buehler said. “Between the midfield and back line, we have to be aware of where she is in that space.”

Portland coach Cindy Parlow Cone said the Thorns cannot focus on shutting down Holiday to the point where they forget about the other dangerous players.

“Kansas City is a great team, both on the attack and on defense,” Cone said. “The combination of Holiday, (striker Melissa) Henderson and (midfielder Erika) Tymrak is lethal. Then you add in (midfielder) Courtney Jones and (midfielder Merritt) Mathias ... we’ve got to make sure we don’t give up the counterattack. We have to make sure we’re always aware and alert and communicating.”

KC outscored Portland 9-7 in the four games.

“The last three times we’ve played them, we’ve given up at least two goals a game,” Sinclair said. “We’re not going to win any playoff games doing that. We have confidence that we’re going to score a goal or two, but you can’t count on scoring four goals in a playoff game.”

The Western New York Flash (10-4-8) also finished with 38 points, forcing the use of tie-breakers to determine the top three playoff spots. New York will play host to Sky Blue FC (10-6-6, 36) at 5 p.m. PT Saturday in the other semifinal.

“It ended up the way I thought it would — very tight,” Cone said. “It’s frustrating because all we needed was one (more) point to win the league.”

Wins by Portland and Sky Blue would give the Thorns home field in the championship match.

“We haven’t talked about that once,” Sinclair said. “Our focus is Kansas City and getting a result there.”