Word on the street is that the Portland Thorns love Salt & Straw, our fair burg's very Portland-y artisanal ice cream purveyor. In recent weeks, a number of players have peppered their Twitter feeds with Instagram photos of smiling teammates clutching waffle cones.
Somebody oughta buy these ladies a couple more scoops. After the way they treated the Seattle Reign on Sunday, they deserve it.
The Thorns topped the Reign, 2-1, behind goals from Marian Dougherty and Alex Morgan; some confident goalkeeping; and, perhaps most importantly, behind a spot-on execution of head coach Cindy Parlow Cone's game plan. All this in front of a record crowd of 16,479 at Jeld-Wen, a raucous new supporters' group, and a slew of national soccer luminaries.
"Well, that was fun, wasn't it?" Parlow Cone quipped after the match.
Indeed it was. While the Thorns looked hapless and confused in their season opener last week against FC Kansas City, in this match they held shape from top to bottom, connected passes they had failed to connect a week before, and patiently, deliberately took control of the game. The result: Two very nice goals. And one very nice victory, which launched the Thorns (4 points, 1-0-1) into first place the NWSL standings.
"[Last week] was the first week where we had all of our teammates here," Parlow Cone said in the post-game press conference. "We got to know each other a little bit better, and I think our rhythm was better and keeping our defensive organization and choosing when to press and when to drop in was much better than in Kansas City."
Coming in the 45th minute, the first goal proved archetypal for the manner in which the Thorns played for much of the afternoon. The backline and midfield held possession, switching fields and executing triangular connective passes, waiting for an opening in which to make a move. That opening came when Christine Sinclair made a streaking run on the right side of the pitch and Dougherty found her with a well-placed delivery from deep within Thorns territory.
Sinclair got a boot on the ball, but Reign defender Kate Deines got a hand on the ball, resulting in free kick for the Thorns around 30 yards out.
For the set piece, Nikki Washington then delivered a low, curving drive into the box, which Dougherty misdirected with a smart header into the goal. Keeper Michelle Betos, who has been guarding her net like a pit bull since the season began, had no chance. Dougherty shot one arm up in the air in celebration; Morgan shot up two, and an ecstatic group hug ensued.
"Nikki just hit the perfect ball," Dougherty said after the game, with a huge smile. "And I just beat the player to it, got my head on it, and was able to flick it into the corner. It was incredible. To be honest, I didn't know that I'd be the first to get a home goal, but I'll take it."
The second goal came at the 52nd minute when Morgan, after loping down the sideline with her familiar coltish gait, turned on the speed to meet a ball that Sinclair had slipped with pinpoint precision between a trio of Reign defenders. Betos came out to meet Morgan, but the keeper's fate was sealed the minute Morgan touched the ball --the superstar is just too good from six yards out, and she calmly slotted it home.
"It was a counter attack and Sincy has great vision and awareness of her teammates in space," Morgan explained about her goal. "She just played a great through ball, and I knew that if I just played it far post, I'd beat the keeper."
Portland continued to unlock Seattle's defense for much of the match, outshooting the Reign 11-7, with five shots on goal to Seattle's two and winning six corner kicks to Seattle's two. According to All White Kit's Chris Henderson, who has done a great job of compiling unofficial game numbers, the Thorns dominated the first half before the Reign evened things up, statistically speaking.
Still, Seattle was no pushover. Midfielders Keelin Winters and Jessica Fishlock played especially strong, disrupting Portland's passes with skilled interceptions and aggressive play. With her shock of bleached blonde hair, Fishlock was unmistakable on the pitch, getting on the wrong side of the crowd with a series of hard, sometimes questionable tackles. The yellow card awarded to her at 78' was only one of six doled out in a chippy match, but it was one of the most provocative, as the randy midfielder made numerous unfriendly overtures toward the home crowd. The exertion must have taken its toll on the Seattle star, as after the match she leaned over, hands on knees, for a while. She wasn't the only Reign player to do so.
Unfortunately, Seattle's only goal came courtesy of Fishlock at the 73rd minute. After a slightly dangerous ball was played into the box, Winters manhandled defender Rachel Buehler to the ground, freeing room for Fishlock to slot it past keeper Karina LeBlanc.
"I know I ended up on the ground. Those are things we can tighten up. Maybe I can bulldoze Keelin next time," Buehler said jokingly after the match.
Clearly excited about the supporters group and crowd in general, LeBlanc's eyes still hardened when asked if she'll be thinking about the play for a while. "I loved the win, I'm happy, I'm pumped. But I'm pissed about the goal," she said, her voice hoarse from directing her backline over Jeld-Wen's din.
LeBlanc, by the way, sported a wide mohawk dyed red, with a red rose dyed into the short hair on the side of her head. "There's something about the energy here," she said of playing in front of the home crowd and the supporters group known as the Rose City Riveters, who were there in full force. "They have their chants, they have their cheers, but it's also just an energy. It felt like any international game, any big game."
Besides those on the pitch, other luminaries floated about the confines of Jeld-Wen. Soccer legends Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Tiffeny Milbrett--all of whom played with Parlow Cone on the USWNT's famous 1999 World Cup-winning team--were there, as was current USWNT head coach Tom Sermanni and Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl. Post-match, a large horde of press crammed into a small hallway by the locker room, prompting Thorns midfielder Allie Long, who turned the corner unaware of the mass of humanity until she and ran smack into it, to let out a long, low, "whhhhoa." Just before, Long, along with the rest of the Thorns, had received special welcoming banners, which the Rose City Riveters had hand-painted in the days leading up to the match. As goal-scorers, Dougherty and Morgan received roses.
Judging from the smiles, body language, and statements arising from the Thorns, the team was both touched and inspired by the support, both from general fans and from the RCR.
"It was just incredible," Sinclair said with a broad grin. "We had heard what the ticket sales were going to be, but I don't think anyone expected that. I wouldn't want to be the away team in his stadium."
Morgan also commented "We were all so excited. Receiving the roses was awesome--I didn't expect it--and seeing a full stadium out there today, standing on their feet the entire game, it gave me chills."
In all, the game was everything it was hoped to be, from the fireworks that blazed during the pre-game ceremony as Thorns defender Jazmyne Avant totally nailed the national anthem, to the fireworks on the field. There's much more to unpack here, and I'll be following up as the week progresses. But, meanwhile, a quick note to the folks at Salt & Straw: A rose-themed ice cream might just be in order, if the team continues to play at this level. You might want to spike it with something strong, though --as the Reign can attest, playing the Thorns at Jeld-Wen can leave a very bitter taste.
Portland Thorns FC (1-0-1, 4pts) vs. Seattle Reign FC (0-1-1, 1pts)
April 21, 2013 - JELD-WEN Field (Portland, Ore.)
Goals by Half 1 2 F
Portland 1 1 2
Seattle 0 1 1
POR: Dougherty (Washington), 45
POR: Morgan (Sinclair), 52
SEA: Fishlock, 74
POR: Long (Caution), 10
POR: Kerr (Caution), 11
SEA: Reed (Caution), 30
SEA: Nairn (Caution), 33
POR: Washington (Caution), 68
SEA: Fishlock (Caution), 78
Lineups & Stats
POR: GK Karina LeBlanc, D Marian Dougherty, D Kathryn Williamson, D Rachel Buehler, D Nikki Marshall, M Nikki Washington, M Becky Edwards, M Angie Kerr (Danielle Foxhoven, 76), M Allie Long (Courtney Wetzel, 80), F Christine Sinclair, F Alex Morgan
Substitutes Not Used: GK Adelaide Gay, D Jazmyne Avant, D Emilee O'Neil, M Meleana Shim, F Jessica Shufelt
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Morgan, 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Morgan, 2); FOULS: 11 (Long, 4); OFFSIDES: 2; CORNER KICKS: 6; SAVES: 1
SEA: GK Michelle Betos, D Emily Zurrer, D Lauren Barnes (Jenny Ruiz, 84), D Kate Deines, D Ellie Reed, M Kaylyn Kyle, M Teresa Noyola (Kiersten Dallstream, 54), M Jessica Fishlock, M Keelin Winters, M Christine Nairn, F Liz Bogus (Kristina Larsen, 66)
Substitutes Not Used: GK Hayley Kopmeyer, M Lyndsey Patterson, M Kristen Meier,
TOTAL SHOTS: 7 (Three players tied, 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Fishlock, Nairn, 1); FOULS: 10 (Fishlock, 2); OFFSIDES: 1; CORNER KICKS: 2; SAVES: 3
Referee: Josh Wilkens
Assistant Referees: Felisha Mariscal, Desmond Miller
Fourth Official: Jason Perlewitz
Weather: 51 degrees, overcast