The Portland Thorns (6-4-2, 20pts) served the NWSL notice Saturday: they are back, and looking stronger than ever.
The scoreline may have become a bit inflated at the end, as they doubled their previous season high for goals scored (3-1, April 26 vs. FC Kansas City) in the last 10 minutes as second half substitutes Jessica McDonald scored two goals in the 85th and 87th minute and Allie Long added another in second half stoppage time, her 5th of the season.
McDonald had not even been on the pitch 3 minutes when she scored her first, coming on for Alex Morgan in the 82nd minute, equaling the regular season goal scoring mark of 8 goals, set by both Morgan and Christine Sinclair last season, in her 12th match.
It wasn't all rosy for the Thorns, as the Spirit stepped up their attack after giving up early goals to Morgan and Sinclair in the 5th and 10th minutes.
The Spirit (6-7-1, 19pts) found themselves chasing the match as their rebuild backline, containing all new players from last week: Niki Cross, Ali Krieger, Alex Singer, and usual defensive midfielder Robin Gayle found herself playing left back, all starting in defense, with Tori Huster in at defensive midfielder, despite usually starting at center back.
This turned out being a recipe for disaster for the Spirit, as their inexperience together showed glaringly in the first 10 minutes and the Thorns superior conditioning won out in the end, as a gassed Spirit side simply fell apart in the last 20 minutes, after Morgan scored her second goal of the afternoon in the 71st minute as Spirit goalkeeper Chantel Jones passed the ball right back to the onrushing Morgan, who easily chipped Jones before she could respond.
Giving up such an easy goal deflated the Spirit, who looked to have a chance to bring the match level after Christine Nairn's bouncing shot from the top of the box went underneath Michelle Betos in the 62nd minute, the culmination of a solid effort put forth the by the Spirit after giving up the early goals.
The middle portions of the match belonged to the Spirit, who controlled possession of the match and dictated the flow of the game and they looked to have their first goal in the 14th minute as Betos came out to make a save on a cross, but Sarah Huffman was there guarding the line and easily cleared it away.
The Spirit would continue to push as Nairn and English forward Jodie Taylor continued to create chances, but the Thorns defense help firm, save for the lone Spirit goal.
For the Thorns though, it wasn't just that they scored 6 goals, but it was how they scored them.
Sinclair's goal was created off the high workrate of the Thorns' attack, as Sinead Farrelly pressed Cross to pass the ball centrally from the corner, which Morgan promptly stole as dropped to a waiting Sinclair, who hit the underside of the crossbar and in.
Morgan's first goal came off a crazy sequence that saw several shots taken in the box after Huffman's free kick pulled Jones well off her line, but the first few chances were blocked by a wall of Spirit defenders inside the 6, until Morgan's header found the back of the net.
Morgan's second goal was pure athleticism, as she broke though the Spirit defense alone, took a shot that was saved, then Jones' bad pass went right back to Morgan for an easy chip.
McDonald's first goal came from teamwork and building up the attack in the final third, as Farrelly brought the ball up field, laid it off to Vero, who dropped to Sinclair, then slid the ball to Farrelly, who hit the ball straight to Jones, but her kick-save fell to McDonald, who got enough under the ball to slot it past the outstretched arms of Jones, who had yet to recover from her saved moments before and no defenders had tracked back.
McDonald's second goal came after Huffman brought the ball up the field and crossed in to McDonald, who simply chested the ball into the net, as the only defender anywhere near her was a sliding Gayle, who missed a block.
Long's goal came after she dropped to Huffman, then sprinted forward and was found by Huffman, pushed past Cross, and then Jones dove near post and Long shot it easily past her.
In each of these goals, the Thorns scored in a different manner and from varying degrees of difficulty, from the athletic (Morgan's second), to teamwork (McDonald's first), to persistence (Sinclair, Morgan's first, Long), each goal had a different build up and finish, this should scare opposing defenses if this is a sign of things to come, and these were just the chances that were finished.
The Thorns are clearly a different team than that which was ran off the pitch against Boston and Western New York, and they are still putting things together. They scored as they did without one of the world's best playmakers in Tobin Heath and held one of the higher scoring teams in the league to 1 goal in two matches without Nadine Angerer.
The Thorns are looking like the team we were promised in the offseason, an offensive juggernaut that would simply overpower their opponents and score at will. We saw a glimpse of this Saturday.
The Thorns are only getting stronger, and their opponents should be scared.