Semifinal Preview: Portland Thorns FC face new challenge on the road in Chicago
Portland has had the opportunity to host the semifinal round in previous years
Portland Thorns FC midfielder Lindsey Horan tries to control the ball (Photo credit: Daniel Bartel/isiphotos.com)
Portland Thorns FC midfielder Lindsey Horan tries to control the ball (Photo credit: Daniel Bartel/isiphotos.com)

Coach Mark Parsons and Portland Thorns FC find themselves in a very new situation during these playoffs. But, don’t think for a second they’re not up to the task.

“Things took a turn, and we finished the season in a place that isn’t normal to us, but I think that’s a new and exciting challenge because we’ve got winners here,” he said. “We’ve got competitors. And we know we have a responsibility to represent our club in the best possible way. We have a different way and different look of doing that. This time we’re on the road, we’re in the mode of looking to spoil a few parties, and the responsibility we have right now is preparing the best we can. We’re embracing this exciting opportunity to head to a semifinal for the fourth year in a row, and give everything we’ve got into this game.“

Thorns FC were keeping pace with the league’s best for the first twenty games of the NWSL season, but a late dip in form dropped the side into third place in the table, sending the team on the road for a playoff semifinal for the first time during Parsons’ tenure with the team. After sitting down with the team and learning from their recent rough patch, Portland is laser focused on bringing more glory back to the Rose City.

“Now we turn the page,” Parsons said. “We’re on the road, there’s going to be more pressure and expectation on other teams. We have this chip on this shoulder. We’ve put so much, not just twelve, sixteen players, but twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight players have all had major contributions putting this team where we are today. 

“We’ve got one game to fight for a championship game, and two to fight for a trophy. So, we draw the line and say the regular season has been what it has. We’ve got some great things, we’ve got some lessons. Now we’ve got a two-game tournament. Now we’ve got an opportunity to bring a trophy home, to the club, to the community that supports football like no other.”

On the other side, Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames is looking to ride positive momentum into the breaking of two curses. The Red Stars have not defeated Thorns FC since 2013, and they have been knocked out in four consecutive playoff semifinals. However, there’s a difference this time around as the Red Stars are hosting a semifinal for the first time since 2015.

“Last year we finished with our last four games on the road, and our fifth was the semi. Year before that, our last three games were on the road and the fourth was the semi. We feel that, probably in the last three years for sure, we’ve limped a bit into the postseason. We haven’t had a healthy squad or a fresh squad, for whatever reason.

“However, I think it’s the healthiest we’ve headed into one of these games since the first year, and moreover being able to be at SeatGeek in front of our fans and not have to travel and go through that whole routine and be able to stay on our own routine, we’re hoping to reap the benefits of that as well.“

There’s more history to note as well because this was a banner year for the Red Stars, setting club single-season records in points (44) and goals scored (41). For Dames, he knows that no matter the result, this year shows how the growth of the club.

“We’re incredibly proud of everyone involved in the Red Stars this year. From the medical staff to the coaching staff to the players and especially the fans, being able to sell out the stadium for the North Carolina game was an incredible experience for everybody involved. It shows how far our organization has come.

“We’re really looking forward to the weekend, really looking forward to putting on a good show, and trying to kick that door down and get into the final.”

The Red Stars will host Thorns FC in the second of two 2019 NWSL Semifinals on Sunday, October 20. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET. and will air on ESPN2. 

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