Match Recap: Thorns FC @ Sky Blue FC

USA TODAY Sports

Incredible goalkeeping keeps Portland's head above water

Thorns FC goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc deserves the Woman of the Match award, the Bacon Saver Award, the Badass Award, and any other award under the steamy New Jersey sun after her performance Saturday. The Canadian international collected a year-high record seven saves --almost all of them spectacular-- and was the only reason the outclassed Thorns escaped Yurcak Field with a nil-nil draw against Sky Blue FC.

The result allowed Portland (8-2-2, 26 points) to remain tied at the top of the NWSL table with Sky Blue (8-2-2, 26 points). The Jersey team, who earlier this season defeated the Thorns 1-0, technically holds first place, courtesy of the two teams' head-to-head record. This means that the Thorns will need to defeat Sky Blue handily in their final match to salvage the season series. That match occurs Wednesday, July 31, at Jeld-Wen field.

But for now, the storyline is this: The Thorns looked discombobulated from the start, and still managed to conjure up quality opportunities --which they squandered-- and ultimately left it up to LeBlanc to save them with her second shutout in a row, and her sixth overall.

Despite Sky Blue holding much of the run of play in the period, the Thorns two missed opportunities occurred in the first half. At 17', Thorns midfielder Angie Kerr tracked down a loose ball on the left side and popped a very nice lob pass to forward Alex Morgan at the top of the penalty box. Morgan juked around SBFC goalkeeper Brittany Cameron and found herself alone about 10 yards away from paydirt, facing a decent angle on a wide gap on the right side of the net, far post --pure Morganlandia. Except when Morgan reared back and left-footed the ball, she went near post, and she missed; the shot hit the outside netting. That's pretty much how the match would go in a nutshell.

To wit: Blown chance Number Two, which came two minutes later, courtesy of a superior give-and-go exchange between Thorns attacking midfielder Christine Sinclair and the team's newest member, forward Tiffany Weimer. Weimer and Sinclair haven't trained much together, but they showed instant chemistry when Weimer dropped the ball off to Sinclair, who, with her back to the goal, launched a well-paced pass up over the defense and directly back to Weimer as she streaked goalward. Weimer must have been salivating at the three-quarters empty net that greeted her, but her shot curved just wide of the far post and out for a goal kick.

Had the Thorns converted on either of those chances, the entire tenor of the match would have changed. Given the stingy nature of SBFC's defense, an early goal would have done much to buoy the Thorns' chance at stealing three points. And given the 90-plus degree heat, the team needed to score before running out of gas.

Instead, the game proved a devolution from the momentum the Thorns have been building for the past couple weeks. Gone were the extra runs, gone were the hustle and increasing cohesion and, most importantly, gone was the joy exhibited by the team during its last two victories. In last week's win over Seattle, the Thorns were all smiles; today, there were grimaces, not grins.

Maybe Saturday's struggles were a function of yet another round of lineup shuffling. With midfielder Becky Edwards out due to injury, Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone had to re-arrange her midfield, while also accommodating Weimer and also newly acquired midfielder/defender Casey Ramirez. Meantime, backline stalwart Marian Dougherty also was out, attending her sister's wedding.

Best of luck to the happy couple and all, but the nuptials couldn't have come at a worse time. The Thorns back line looked as unsteady as a bunch of drunken bridesmaids, time and again allowing Sky Blue's attack ample room to maneuver. At one point, SBFC forward Lisa De Vanna literally ran circles around a defender in order to get off a shot on goal.

Whatever the reason, it all basically came down to De Vanna vs. LeBlanc.

LeBlanc appeared in the zone early on, when Sky Blue's Taylor Lytle found a giant hole in the defense and timed a pass perfectly to get De Vanna the ball onside as she outraced the Thorns backline. De Vanna tried to chip a crafty shot over the head of LeBlanc, who was racing out to meet her in the middle of the box, but the Thorns keeper reacted lightning-quick and deflected the ball upwards, and then caught it on its way down.

As spectacular as that play was, it proved only a sparkler in the night's fireworks. LeBlanc made every kind of save imaginable --reaction saves, position saves, kick saves, and miracle saves. Midway through the second half, De Vanna once again had her way with the backline, cracking a close-range, angled shot to the far post. It was a shot that should have gone in, but KK kicked it out of harm's way in an act of sheer robbery. Later on, De Vanna tried a right side run, easily sliding past the defense (are you noticing a pattern here?) for a breakaway. As De Vanna blazed toward the goal, LeBlanc made a split-second decision to race out to meet her, and greeted the forward with a stiff slide tackle all the way at the top of the penalty box, stopping the threat in its tracks. For the finale, LeBlanc fended off a penalty time barrage, at one point diving to paw away a shot from her left, then pivoting right to kick save the shot off the rebound. In all, LeBlanc made three saves in three minutes, as Sky Blue attackers flung themselves at her full force in the extra time.

Sometimes teams need heroes, and the sports trope of a single player carrying the entire team on her back can be an uplifting one. As inspiring as LeBlanc's performance was, ultimately it left Thorns fans coming away somewhat disheartened. LeBlanc didn't save a team gallantly fighting to the end; she merely saved it from drowning.

A quick note: Equalizer soccer posted some footage of the post-game interviews here. It would behoove you to watch and draw your own conclusions to some puzzling stuff. Food for thought: A frustrated looking Morgan stating "I felt we were just too defensive minded coming here," and Parlow Cone's cryptic "No game is more important than a player's health" as an explanation of why she subbed in three players within 10 minutes of each other.

GOALS

1

2

F

Portland (8-2-2)

0

0

0

Sky Blue FC (8-2-2)

0

0

0

SCORING SUMMARY

Goal Time Team Goal Scorer Assists Note

None

CAUTIONS AND EJECTIONS

Time Team ## Player Card Reason

None

SUBSTITUTIONS

Time Team OUT IN

63 Portland #20 Courtney Wetzel #6 Meleana Shim

65 Portland #4 Emilee O'Neil #15 Casey Ramirez

73 Portland #12 Christine Sinclair #9 Danielle Foxhoven

77 Sky Blue FC #9 Danesha Adams #16 Sophie Schmidt

SHOTS

1

2

F

Portland

4

6

10

Sky Blue FC

8

12

20

SHOTS ON GOAL

1

2

F

Portland

1

4

5

Sky Blue FC

4

3

7

SAVES

1

2

F

Portland

4

3

7

Sky Blue FC

1

4

5

CORNERKICKS

1

2

F

Portland

1

3

4

Sky Blue FC

3

3

6

OFFSIDES

1

2

F

Portland

2

1

3

Sky Blue FC

3

2

5

FOULS

1

2

F

Portland

3

7

10

Sky Blue FC

1

1

2

Officials:
Referee:
Kari Seitz

Asst. Referee: Veronica Perez; TJ Zablocki
Fourth Official: Neil Barbulescu

Attendance: 3002

Portland Player Stats

##

1

Name(*forstarters)

Karina LeBlanc*

Min

90

G

0

A

0

Sh

0

SOG

0

YC

0

RC

0

CK

0

Off

0

FC

0

FS

0

7

Nikki Marshall*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

5

Kathryn Williamson*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

13

Alex Morgan*

90

0

0

3

1

0

0

0

1

1

0

19

Tiffany Weimer*

90

0

0

4

3

0

0

0

0

1

1

10

Allie Long*

90

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

2

1

8

Angie Kerr*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

1

1

0

16

Rachel Buehler*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

12

Christine Sinclair*

73

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

4

Emilee O'Neil*

65

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

20

Courtney Wetzel*

63

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

Meleana Shim

27

0

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

1

0

15

Casey Ramirez

25

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

0

9

Danielle Foxhoven

17

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

TEAM TOTAL 990 0 0 10 5 0 0 4 3 10 2

Portland Goalkeeper Stats

## Name(*forstarters)

Min

GA

Sh

SOG

Sv

D

1 Karina LeBlanc*

90

0

20

7

7

T

TEAM TOTAL

90

0

20

7

7

Sky Blue FC Player Stats

##

3

Name(*forstarters)

Christie Rampone*

Min

90

G

0

A

0

Sh

0

SOG

0

YC

0

RC

0

CK

0

Off

0

FC

1

FS

2

19

Kelley O'Hara*

90

0

0

3

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

5

Kendall Johnson*

90

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

22

Manya Makoski*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

11

Lisa De Vanna*

90

0

0

5

4

0

0

0

5

0

1

1

Brittany Cameron*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

Taylor Lytle*

90

0

0

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

4

Caitlin Foord*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

23

Katy Freels-Frierson*

90

0

0

3

1

0

0

0

0

0

2

2

Courtney Goodson*

90

0

0

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

9

Danesha Adams*

77

0

0

2

1

0

0

6

0

0

1

16

Sophie Schmidt

13

0

0

2

1

0

0

0

0

1

0

TEAM TOTAL

990

0

0

20

7

0

0

6

5

2

10

Sky Blue FC Goalkeeper Stats

## Name(*forstarters)

Min

GA

Sh

SOG

Sv

D

1 Brittany Cameron*

90

0

10

5

5

T

TEAM TOTAL

90

0

10

5

5

X
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