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Thorns kicking into playoff push mode

Lopsided victory at home over Kansas City buoys hopes


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland Thorns Christine Sinclair (left) and Veronica Boquete celebrate a goal in Sundays 7-1 homefield victory over FC Kansas City.The Portland Thorns FC are in a brutally tight race for a spot in the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs.

The Thorns (7-6-4, 25 points) are fourth in the NWSL. The Chicago Red Stars (7-6-4, 25 points) and the New York Flash (7-9-2, 23 points) are in hot pursuit, and the top four clubs will make the postseason.

The Thorns have seven matches remaining.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Thorns coach Paul Riley says, after Portland’s 7-1 blowout Sunday at Providence Park against FC Kansas City. “Chicago (who the Thorns play this Thursday) had a great result last night against Seattle, so now we have to go into the cauldron, and it’s a tough place to play.

“We played some great football (against Kansas City), and there we’ll have to play some great football. It’s going to be a difficult game for us, but hopefully we’ll get some points.”

Riley declines to say how many points he thinks the Thorns need to earn in order to make the playoffs.

“The girls know,” he says. “We’ve talked about it. It’s a lot of points. We need a lot. We haven’t given up on second (place in the league). It’s a tall order, there’s no question.

“Just getting into the playoffs is really our main goal at this point. It’d be great to get a home game, but we have to get some help as well. We’re not in a position where we can just win out at this point. There’s still some life left in a couple of the other teams too, even below us.

“The league will be happy with the fact that all these teams are trying to get in the playoffs and just have to keep plugging along.”

• The Thorns finally have all of their players healthy and in the lineup.

After playing much of the season without Alex Morgan (injury) Veronica Boquete (assignment) and Tobin Heath (assignment), Portland finally has the roster it wants on the pitch.

Boquete says it is not easy to put so many pieces of the puzzle together. However, she says, the Thorns are making strides to come together as the season winds down.

“It’s not easy when you have players who come from other countries, other teams, other styles and players who come back from injuries,” Boquete says. “Everything takes time. We weren’t that bad before. We have to keep going.”

• Portland had a scary moment in the 78th minute of Sunday’s match against FC Kansas City when Morgan went down and had to be carried off the pitch.

Riley says it is nothing to worry about, though. He assured everyone that Morgan simply tweaked her right ankle — not the ankle that kept her from competing in the first few months of the NWSL season.

“It was the other ankle,” Riley says. “I think she was just more frightened. She’d been out a long time (with the left ankle injury), so I think anytime a tackle comes in like that, it just leaves a little question mark in the back of her mind. I think it was just the shock of it, and then she said ‘I feel great.’”

• Midfielder Allie Long has been phenomenal for Portland this season, scoring eight goals.

Long, a 25-year-old out of North Carolina, has been a defensive midfielder throughout her career. She says that the onslaught of goals is due to the fact that Riley has given her more freedom to be an offensive presence.

“Paul has given me the freedom to do that in this formation,” Long says. “He wants us (midfielders) on the ball all the time, and he tells the team to ‘feed us, feed us’ and always give us the ball, and when we get it to just be creative. When I play defensive mid you can tell I maybe don’t produce or I’m more reserved, that’s because I’m more disciplined, but in the attacking role I’m able to kind of have the freedom.”

Long is not surprised by her ability to put the ball in the back of the net.

“This offseason, I really worked hard on being creative and going to goal and doing that type of stuff,” Long says. “Now, putting myself in that situation, it’s been working out, so I just have to keep going.”