Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: 2017, Semi-Finals

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Backline Soccer Recap:


Quick Fire Semi-Final Game Previews:

The playoffs are here and our four teams are set. After watching all four teams face off last weekend, this semi-final weekend is sure to be one for the books. Let’s take a look at the matchups. 

Game 1: Portland Thorns vs. Orlando Pride

Portland Thorns record: 14-5-5
Position: 2nd
Total Points: 47

Orlando Pride record: 11-6-7
Position: 3rd
Total Points: 40

Portland fought for the right to get the home-field advantage for the semi-finals. Will it be enough today? I imagine a very tough match for both teams but Portland has that home-side on their side. Portland tends to come out of the gate quick, possessing a lot of the ball, and trying to pressure the opposing team to make mistakes. Their key will be to not get too impatient and ahead of themselves while stringing together a full 90′. Tobin Heath is expected to start but no word yet on how many minutes she will be able to play. She has shown a bit in her last two matches but how much she is able to contribute to this match may prove key for the Thorns. Portland would do well to run their attack through Hayley Raso and make sure she gets plenty of good looks to put one away. Playing such a defensive game against Orlando a few weeks ago provided them very little opportunity at goal, where the shots on goal they did get, relied on an Orlando mistake. The defense will be tested with the attacking duo of Marta and Alex Morgan but if their defense has so far been up to the task. 

Orlando’s Alanna Kennedy pulled off a last-minute free-kick stunner to put the Pride into this semi-final matchup, which will now be one of the bigger tests of their short time in the league. The last time the Pride played the Thorns, it was probably the most physical matchup of the season. The Pride will need to not only be extremely steady on defense but also try to curb their notorious last-minute opportunities and turnovers given to the opposing side. It was also announced earlier this week that Camila would miss the playoffs with a torn ACL and sprained MCL, which is a huge loss for the Pride’s creative side, which struggles to find help outside of Marta and Camila. If they can control their game plan, they have a real shot to steal one in Portland. Their key will be figuring out a way to deal with the defensive shutdown the Thorns will most likely push them into again. What shut them out in the last match against Portland was their inability to use the width, they were forced to play too compactly. Orlando was successful against Portland with the high press but that is hard to sustain for the full 90′. If Orlando can find a way to break the Portland compacted defense and finish the shots they manage to get. This game should be quite the matchup. 

Game 2: North Carolina Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars

North Carolina Courage record: 16-7-1
Position: 1st
Total Points: 49

Chicago Red Stars record: 11-7-6
Position: 4th
Total Points: 39

North Carolina is coming into this match having not beaten Chicago yet this season. Will this match break the losing spell? For all intents and purposes, North Carolina has been the most consistent team this season and their positioning and record prove that. Their biggest problem has been finishing though. A player like Lynn Williams takes a lot of shots but lacks the finishing aspect in some ways and relies on her speed. This could work this weekend or could be a downfall. The Courage will have trouble with Chicago’s defense so they will need to do a much better chance of finishing their chances, especially earlier in the game. Sam Mewis is also expected to have another stellar game, chugging along in the midfield setting up her teammates or taking shots on her own. She will need to be on and clicking for the Courage to roll. 

Chicago has been a bit of an enigma lately but have found themselves now facing the number one team in the league for their spot in the final. They should feel pretty happy with this match-up considering their winning record but the playoffs are a different beast. Chicago’s biggest thing will be consistency. Consistently defending the Courage attack and making sure to not give them any space to move. They will also need to do work to win the midfield battle and get more of their attack spurred. Christen Press was noticeably frustrated last week after the loss to Portland so I expect her to come out ready to lead the attack. Chicago will need to be better about feeding her balls so she does not have to drop so far back to get them. Julie Ertz will also be key for the Red Stars, a player I would argue has been the most important player on the field for Chicago this season. If Chicago can capitalize on their early chances and set their game up, they have a very good chance of pulling the win out. Alyssa Naeher and the Chicago backline will be tested, it is how they respond that will determine the winner. 


The Scouting Report:

We went live on Monday night with our weekly TSR, which was the last episode featuring Sandra Herrera and Jordan Small.

In case you missed the episode, catch up here: