There are three matches left in the National Women's Soccer League regular season, but for Portland Thorns FC, the playoffs are now.
Sunday's 7 p.m. match at Providence Park against the Houston Dash shapes up as a critical one if the Thorns want the chance to repeat as NWSL champions.
The top four teams will advance to the playoffs. The Thorns (8 wins, 7 losses, 6 ties) are in fourth place. Chicago is two points back but has played one less game. Washington is one point ahead of Portland in third place, and FC Kansas City is seven points ahead of Portland.
Seattle, which throttled Portland 5-1 last weekend, has clinched first place.
Houston, a first-year team, has a record of 5-11-3. Three of the Dash wins came away from Houston, where the Thorns twice won by 1-0 scores.
The Thorns will again be without midfielder Tobin Heath (knee sprain). Defender Rachel Van Hollebeke (concussion) is also among the players listed as out, along with Kat Tarr of Vancouver, Courtney Niemic and Sinead Farrelly.
In contrast to the injuries on defense, the Thorns have found their attacking stride — especially at home. They scored 13 goals in their last two games at Providence Park, wins over Kansas City and Boston.
The Thorns hope to have a record crowd on hand for the match, which can also be seen on ESPN2.
After Sunday, Portland travels to Boston next weekend then hosts Seattle on Aug.17 to close the regular season.