Portland Thorns FC is back where it all started for another National Women’s Soccer League first in Kansas City, Kan.
Portland and FC Kansas City, which played to a 1-1 draw on April 13 in the inaugural NWSL regular-season match, square off in the league’s first playoff match Saturday. Kickoff is 11 a.m. PDT at Shawnee Mission District Stadium. The winner will play in one week for the first NWSL championship.
Portland and Kansas City finished with identical 11-win, six-loss, five-tie records. FCKC won two of its four games against Portland, and the Thorns won once in the series. Kansas City is the No. 2 seed based on a better goal differential.
A lot of the focus this week has been on two of the world’s best players: Portland’s Alex Morgan and Kansas City’s Lauren (Cheney) Holiday.
With Morgan, the questions are about the health of her sprained knee. She has missed the last two Thorns matches. She went with the thorns to Kansas City and is listed as day-to-day, but seems unlikely to play.
“It’s really up in the air,” Morgan said this week, after doing some warm-up drills for the first time since suffering the injury Aug. 7 in a loss at Boston. “I don’t think it would be smart to put me on the field if I’m not 100 percent, especially the way that I play. I need to cut, I need to accelerate and decelerate at a fast pace.”
If Morgan doesn’t play, the Thorns should still be confident. They earned a draw and a win in the two full games since Morgan’s injury — both on the road.
“Any team is going to miss Alex if she’s not able to play,” Thorns forward Christine Sinclair said. “(But) these past two games we’ve adapted and I actually think been better on the buildup than we have all season.”
There is no questioning the status of Holiday, who led the league in scoring and is expected to be named MVP. The midfielder scored five of her 12 goals against Portland.
“She’s completely dominated this league this year,” Sinclair said. “So we have to stop her this time around.”
Slowing down Kansas City, which scored nine goals in four regular-season against Portland, requires focus — attention to assignments, not only Holiday and midfield running mate Erika Tymrak.
“Kansas City is a very good attacking team, so we’ve got to be sure we don’t give up counter-attacks,” Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said, pointing to that as a big part of the 3-2 loss at Jeld-Wen Field on Aug. 4.
Counter, perhaps, to expectations, playing on the road might play to the Thorns’ advantage. Four of Portland’s six losses came at Jeld-Wen Field.
When Kansas City won 3-2 at Portland on Aug. 4, its unbeaten streak reached 10 games. But losses to Boston and Chicago — on a late goal — cost FCKC the top seed in the playoffs.
FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski said the emotional win at Portland seemed to sap his team’s energy, and that part of his preparation for the semifinal was to make sure his players are physically and mentally refreshed.
• If the match is tied at the end of 90 minutes, the teams will play an additional 30 minutes, broken into 15-minute segments. If the score is still tied, a penalty-kick tiebreaker will determine the winner.
How to watch — Fox Sports 2 network will carry the game. It is available on channel 618 on DirectTV and channel 398 on Dish Network. The network is not available on Comcast cable in Clark County.
The match will be available live online through FOXSoccer2Go.com. The website is offering a free trial through Sept. 15. Viewers must enter a credit card number for the $19.95 subscription fee, but will not be charged if they cancel the service prior to Sept. 15.
Dublin Down Irish Pub, 813 Main St., in Vancouver, is one of eight Timbers and pub partners showing the match live.