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Flash, Thorns tie to leave NWSL playoff race wide open

Karina LeBlanc made a season-high 10 saves in a 0-0 draw with the Flash. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

The Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns FC tied 0-0 at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, N.Y., on Saturday to further complicate the National Women’s Soccer League playoff picture.

Portland played its first full game without Alex Morgan since the United States international sprained her left MCL on Wednesday in Boston, and the Thorns failed to muster many scoring chances. Danielle Foxhoven gave them a promising start, putting a left-footed shot just wide 90 seconds into the match, but the good fortunes didn’t continue.

Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd both enjoyed some chances, including Lloyd’s 24th minute strike from outside the 18-yard box that forced a big save from Karina LeBlanc, but neither of the teams could find a breakthrough.

“To be honest, we didn’t have very many great chances,” Wambach said. “Neither team did. For the soccer enthusiast, that’s kind of the perfect game — the battle of wills, who will flinch first.”

LeBlanc made a season-high 10 saves for the Thorns, who earned their first shutout since June 22, a 0-0 draw with Sky Blue FC.

“Defensively we were cohesive,” Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said postgame, via Caitlin Murray. “We have been giving up goals as of late, but it was great to get a shutout.”

As for life without Morgan, Christine Sinclair — who also played with the Flash in 2011 in WPS — thought the Thorns did well.

“Obviously she’s a tremendous player and any team is going to miss a player like that. But I thought we adapted well. Losing Alex you lose tremendous pace in behind but I thought as a team we did a better job tonight of combining than we have pretty much all season. And I think that’s a result of that long ball not being sort of an option.”

FC Kansas City lost 1-0 to Boston on Saturday night, while Chicago blew an 89th minute lead just 70 seconds after earning it to tie Chicago 3-3. The results mean Kansas City (38 pts.) fails to clinch first place, while Sky Blue, Portland and Western New York are all on 35 pts. with one weekend to play.

Here are the basics of how everything shakes out with one game to play for each team:

— Kansas City, Portland, Western New York and Sky Blue have clinched the four NWSL playoff berths.

— Kansas City cannot finish lower than 2nd, meaning the Blues will host a game on August 24.

— Western New York holds the tie-breaker over all three other teams (superior head-to-head records OR superior goal difference if tied head-to-head). So, if Western New York wins next Saturday against Boston and Kansas City loses to Chicago on Sunday, the Flash will be the top seed. If Portland, Sky Blue and the Flash all end the season level on points, Western New York will be the two seed. Since each playoff team plays a non-playoff team, there is a chance that all four teams could end the season on 38 pts.

— As it stands, Sky Blue FC is the 4th seed based on inferior goal difference with Portland. If both teams win next weekend, Sky Blue would have to make up the goal differential on Portland (currently +6 vs. +5) to finish 2nd or 3rd.

A full breakdown of the tiebreakers can be found here. This is the order of tiebreakers:

1)  Head-to-head records: Where two teams are concerned this will be straight up based on who gets more points from the other.  If it stretches to three or more tied teams, points per game will be used to negate that fact that not all teams play each other the same number of times.

2)  Goal difference: Straight-up goal difference.  This is the international standard bearer and the preference of most longtime soccer fans.

3)  Total goals:  Most total goals scored during the season.

4)  Head-to-head road records:  This one is interesting and won’t even be applicable if the tie is between two teams who have played each other four times.  That’s because in order for the straight head-to-head to be tied, this category would have to be tied as well.  If we ever get this far in a three-way tiebreaker though, it will make for some interesting dynamics.

5)  Goal difference on the road:  Goal difference in games played on the road.  This will not be put into play very often.

6)  Total goals on the road:  Total goals scored on all road games.

7) Coin flip


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