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Hosting 2 playoffs is better than one

Thorns' enthusiastic fans would add to home-field benefit


RACHEL BUEHLERWith the Portland Thorns FC, Sky Blue FC and FC Kansas City all jostling for playoff position, the elephant in the room is how much better it would look for the National Women’s Soccer League if the Thorns were able to host both a first-round playoff match and the championship match.

FC Kansas City (11-4-5, 38 points) is in first place with two regular-season games remaining (Aug. 10 and 18).

Going into their Wednesday night match at Boston, the Thorns were 10-5-4 (34 points) and tied with idle Sky Blue FC (10-6-4, 34 points) for second place.

The top four teams make the playoffs. The top two finishers will play host to the first-round matches, and the highest advancing seed will be at home for the title game.

There is little doubt that Jeld-Wen Field would be sold out for a Thorns playoff game. The Thorns have averaged 13,320 fans per game this season, including 17,619 for Sunday’s home finale against FC Kansas City.

The rest of the league is averaging 2,781.

FC Kansas City has the second highest attendance in the league with 4,597 — but Sky Blue FC, which plays in Piscataway, N.J., is last at 1,666.

“These (Portland) fans are amazing, and if we could have something here it would not only be good for this team, but great for the league in general,” Thorns defender Rachel Buehler says. “To have that aired on TV and show what this league can be ... we’d love that to still happen.”

The Thorns will have to prepare for the playoffs while on the road. Portland closes the regular season with road games Saturday at the fourth-place Western New York Flash in Rochester, N.Y., and Aug. 17 at the Seattle Reign FC in Tukwila, Wash.

Portland has been the best road team in the NWSL. The Thorns’ 5-1-2 road record, going into Wednesday, is better than their 5-4-2 home mark.

“I’m not sure why that is,” Thorns striker Danielle Foxhoven says. “I don’t think it’s a flukey thing, because when we come (to Jeld-Wen Field) we want to play for our fans. We have the best fans in the world, and that gives us a 12th man.”

Buehler says she believes that the larger Jeld-Wen Field crowds help inspire other clubs to play their best when they come to Portland.

“Not only are we excited to play in this environment, but the other teams are also excited,” Buehler says. “Every team plays their best against us here because they don’t get to experience this week in, week out.

“They’re playing their A-game and are really pumped.”

The Thorns allowed only four goals in their first eight matches, but since June 1 they have given up 18 in 11 games.

“We’re giving up too many goals,” coach Cindy Parlow Cone says. “We’ve got to take a look at our defense and see what areas we can improve upon.

“Maybe it’s a personnel improvement. We’ll keep looking at that and see what we can do.”