After losing three matches in a row, the Chicago Red Stars are in the midst of a four match unbeaten streak.
The Red Stars finally clinched a playoff birth with a 3-2 victory against the Houston Dash last week. Chicago marches into the regular season finale and a potential playoff preview against the Portland Thorns.
The Thorns sit in second place in the NWSL, if things don’t change in the final week of the season, this could be a preview of the first semifinal match on October 7th.
For more insight into the Thorns, we turned to Katelyn Best who is a contributing editor at Stumptown Footy.
Hot Time in Old Town: The Portland community is a lot like Chicago right now given the success of the respective MLS and NWSL franchises. How awesome is it to be a soccer fan in Portland, Oregon right now?
Stumptown Footy: It's a fun time of year, for sure—and it's been a couple seasons since both teams have been in a solid position going into their respective playoffs. That said, I'm #RCTID regardless of the weather!
HTIOT: Christine Sinclair is sixth in scoring in the NWSL, but she's the only player amongst the top ten to start and appear in all of her club’s matches. What does it mean to the team to have a player that is as durable and a leader like Sinclair?
STF: Sinclair is one of those players who's habitually under-recognized precisely because she's always expected to be so good. There haven't many years in her career when you couldn't make a reasonable case for her being in the top ten players in the world—and she's been playing at the senior international level for seventeen years!
It's hard to overstate what she is for the Thorns. She's not just a perpetual top goalscorer, but, as you point out, the de facto leader for this team. There's nobody in Portland who doesn't respect and look up to her. This season, the story with Sinc has been her mid-season shift from forward to a #10/withdrawn striker role, which has allowed her to get more involved in the build-up and has helped bring out the best in players like Hayley Raso, who's had a breakout season.
HTIOT: Meghan Klingenberg is having a tremendous season as she is tied for second in the league with assists, how has she grown as a player?
STF: I think a lot of Portland fans were pretty down on Kling at the end of last season. She's an attacking fullback who puts more emphasis on "attacking" and less on "fullback," and as a result, had some pretty major defensive slip-ups that led to goals. We all saw that when she was with the national team, as well.
So this year has provided some redemption for Kling. To me, Kling's story is also Mark Parsons's story; his greatest strength as a manager is in bringing out the best in talented, underutilized players, as we've seen in the past with players like Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath. Parsons has said that Kling has been working on cross and set piece placement since preseason, to the effect that she's now a key wide attacker for the Thorns. Plus, Portland's now-usual formation, which uses three center backs and deploys Kling and Ashley Sykes as wingbacks, has freed her up to get forward without leaving too much empty space behind her. And with Heath now back in the conversation, that left wing is really something Chicago will have to watch.
HTIOT: Portland and Chicago have qualified for the NWSL playoffs, is this a match up you look forward to on October 14th?
STF: Assuming the standings stay as they are today, Chicago and Portland could be facing off again on October 7th in a semifinal. Between Chicago and Orlando, I think the Red Stars are probably the better semifinal matchup for the Thorns, but the notion of playing them in the final regular-season match, and then again in the semifinal, does give me flashbacks to last year, when Portland faced the same situation with Western New York.
On the other hand, if the Thorns were to face Orlando in the semifinal, beating them then would mean not having to play them in Orlando on the 14th, which is probably something they want to avoid. North Carolina would be a difficult matchup for the final, but would offer a chance at revenge for last year's playoffs. In short, whichever way this thing shapes up, it should be a fun ride.
Our thanks to Katelyn Best from Stumptown Footy, you can get connected with her on twitter.
The Red Stars and the Thorns kickoff today at 2:30pm CDT. Tune in, as it may be a preview of what’s to come for Chicago.