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It's win or stay home for Sky Blue FC against Portland

A big crowd is expected tonight as Sky Blue FC needs three points against the Thorns tonight to stay alive in chase of last playoff spot.

Sky Blue Photo/Robyn McNeil

It seems like the Sky Blue FC have been playing "must win" games since the Women's World Cup ended more than seven weeks ago.

But tonight's match versus the Portland Thorns FC is the real thing - for both teams. With only three matches remaining for each team, both need all nine points to even have a hope for the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) playoffs.he two longshots meet at 7 p.m. tonight at Rutgers University's Yurcak Field.

Sky Blue FC sits at 4-7-6 with 18 points and is in eighth place. Portland is at 6-7-4 for 22 points and is in 5th place. Portland is three points behind FC Kansas City and Washington for the final playoff spot. The last spot is the only one still in reach for Sky Blue FC and they need a win. FC Kansas City plays Boston tonight as well and a win by FCKC will eliminate Sky Blue for the last spot.

With a handful of teams still mathematically alive for that one spot, the NWSL playoff picture is understandably cloudy. Only the last-place Boston Breakers have been eliminated.

The key factor will be the availability and condition of the US Women's National Team players for both sides. All are scheduled to be available despite the US team playing Costa Rica in the second leg of the Victory Tour in Chattanooga Wednesday night.

In the first match against Costa Rica, Christie Rampone played all 90 minutes and Kelley O'Hara didn't get off the bench. The situation was reversed Wednesday. O'Hara played the entire game in the backline while Rampone never took her warmups off.

For Portland, Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan should be in the mix. Heath played in a 3-0 loss to FC Kansas City on Aug. 12 and played in both Costa Rica matches. Morgan has been sidelined since the World Cup and had surgery.  She did come on for Abby Wambach Wednesday, playing a little more than a half-hour and scoring the final goal of the day. Expect both in the lineup.

History: Both teams have split home games this year. Portland won on the July 3 match in Portland, 2-1. Second-half goals by Allie Long and Sinead Farrelly erased a 1-0 Sky Blue lead after Katy Freels scored in the first half. Sky Blue FC won the rematch eight days later, 1-0, on a goal from Sam Kerr, her first with the club.

Who's Hot: With the World Cup stars away, Allie Long has kept Portland alive with four goals and an assist in the Thorns' last four matches. That includes a brace against Chicago 10 days ago. She is second behind Crystal Dunn in goal-scoring with nine on the season. Sam Kerr has been a consistent threat for Sky Blue FC since returning from the World Cup. She has four goals since July 11 including a game-tying strike against Chicago last Wednesday.

Matchup to watch: Cami Levin has impressed all season, mostly at outside back. She'll want some added revenge against the Thorns after her foul resulted in a penalty kick that drew Portland even on July 3. Her work against Morgan, Long and a host of others will be key in keeping Sky Blue in the match and in the race for a playoff spot.

The two stadiums: Attendance has been difficult for Sky Blue FC this season as they have brought up the rear in NWSL attendance. But the buzz is tickets are going fast and furious. Get off the beach early if you want to avoid Rt. 18 traffic. And Portland received some interesting news this week. NWSL officials finally verified a rumor that a pre-determined site will host the final this year. And Portland, which by far is the leader in attendance, gets the nod. It will be interesting to see if they support the final is league-leading Seattle - their natural rival - is in the championship match.