Victory over Seattle gives 2013 champs road test at FC KC

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Alex Morgan of the Portland Thorns celebrates her goal in the teams 1-0 home victory Sunday against Seattle Reign FC.Their season has been filled with injuries, and with expectations unmet. With disappointment, confusing performances and questions unanswered.

None of that matters now.

All that matters is that the Portland Thorns FC made the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs and have a chance to defend their 2013 championship.

The Thorns needed help to get to the postseason. After a 2-0 loss to the Boston Breakers on Aug. 10, the Thorns did not control their destiny. But when the Chicago Red Stars and the Washington Spirit failed to win their regular-season finales last Saturday, the Thorns still had a chance. They just had to defeat the Seattle Reign FC, the team with the best record in the NWSL.

With the gauntlet thrown down, the Thorns rose to the occasion. Portland got a goal by striker Alex Morgan in the 68th minute Sunday afternoon and wrapped up the No. 3 NWSL playoff seed with a 1-0 victory against the Reign.

“After the Boston game, everyone was destroyed,” Portland midfielder Veronica Boquete said Sunday. “It was a really hard loss. We knew we had to win that game, and we didn’t. Everyone was so disappointed. We almost stopped believing this could be possible.

“The key was that (last) week we practiced like there was no tomorrow. Every practice was so hard, so intense. When you have that energy all around, it makes everything easier. You believe.

“When we saw that Washington lost (1-0 to Sky Blue FC), the whole team was so happy. The only thing we wanted was to have the chance to come here (Sunday) with the possibility that if we win, we are in. The feeling right now is amazing, and the feeling during the whole game was amazing.”

The Thorns (10-8-6, 36 points) will travel to play the No. 2 seed, FC Kansas City (12-7-5, 41), at 10 a.m. PT Saturday.

The Reign (16-2-6, 54) will play the No. 4 seed, Chicago (9-7-8, 35), which tied the Western New York Flash 3-3 last Saturday.

Goalkeeper Nadine Angerer says making the playoffs has given Portland new life.

“For us, we were already up for it,” she says. “It’s such a comeback. We are so happy now. Now we know we all have a second chance.

“We have to take it now. We have to go with the right attitude. They’re absolutely beatable, but we have to be totally focused on the game.”

The Thorns went 2-1 against FC Kansas City this season, with a 3-1 victory and a 7-1 blowout win. Both of those results came at Providence Park, though. When Portland played in Kansas City on June 28, the Thorns were handed a 1-0 loss. Thorns coach Paul Riley says he believes that Portland matches up well with Kansas City.

“It’s going to be 100 degrees, probably 105 degrees,” Riley says, looking ahead to the match at Verizon Wireless Field in Kansas City, Mo. “We’ll do our best to prepare the team. We match up pretty well with Kansas. If I’d had the choice of who to play, it would be Kansas. They’re a good side. They play great football, which I think helps us too.

“We seem to do well against the teams that play football, as opposed to teams that play direct.”

The Thorns have struggled to live up to the hype about them throughout the 2014 season. Some of that may have been adjusting to Riley, who is in his first year with Portland. Most of it, though, probably was due to injury and not having a full lineup. While Portland has perhaps the most talented roster in the world, the Thorns did not have many of their star players for much of the season.

Morgan, a U.S. women’s national team member, played in 14 of the 24 regular-season matches.

U.S. national team midfielder Tobin Heath played in five matches, and U.S. national team defender Rachel Van Hollebeke played in 12. Boquete, who is on the Spanish national team, played in 15, and Australian national team defender Stephanie Catley played in 14.

Unfortunately for Portland, the Thorns might be hamstrung this weekend against Kansas City, as Catley is still recovering from a left mid-foot sprain.

“She’s got potential to make it,” Riley says. “She was on the AlterG (anti-gravity treadmill). She’s pretty much 100 percent on that. Just the weight bearing. She tried running the last two days, and it just didn’t work. We wrapped her up and said ‘Don’t worry. Let’s get you to Monday morning. We’ll assess it Monday.’ Almost unquestionably, we’ll take her to Kansas with us. We’ll make a late decision, if she gets fit.”

The Thorns also will have to spend the week of training without Morgan and midfielder Allie Long, who are on national team duty.

It would have been good for everybody to have all their players,” Riley says. “Kansas is missing five. We’re missing two. It is difficult. Allie has been with us all season, so it’s fine. The more time Alex spends with (Christine Sinclair) and Vero the better. It’s as simple as that. She knows Tobin pretty well. She knows Allie pretty well. But it is what it is.

“Everybody’s in the same boat, all four teams going into the playoffs. At least they’re in Carolina (with the national team), so they’ll be on the east coast. That’ll be some aid to it anyway.”

Morgan says being defending champs is a big factor.

“We noticed that every team was against us this year,” Morgan says. “All the results went against us leading into the playoffs and then we were given a great opportunity by the teams dropping points that needed to win and that gave us one last chance and put the fate in our hands. We took it and ran with it, which I’m happy to see.

“I talked to the girls earlier, before the game, and said ‘It’s true Portland fashion that we would leave it up to us these last 90 minutes to make it or not into the playoffs.’

“But when it came down to it, we got the work done and we know we have the support in the locker room from our teammates, from our coaches, from these 18,000 fans that were here.

“We know we have that support and we want to keep that championship title here in Portland.”

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