The Portland Thorns (2-0-1, 7pts.) received their 2013 NWSL Championship rings and then went on to defeat FC Kansas City (0-2-1, 1pt), as Allie Long and Lauren Holiday traded penalty kicks and Jessica McDonald scored goals in the 84th and 88th minute to give the Thorns a 3-1 victory.
For both squads, it was another thrilling chapter in this rivalry on a cold, rainy night at Providence Park.
Meeting for the first time since the Thorns 3-2 come from behind victory in last season's overtime semifinal, both sides looked to put on a show for the fans.
Nadine Angerer provided some early fireworks, making a diving save on a shot by Erika Tymrak that came in from a cross from Amy Rodriguez in the 6th minute.
For Angerer, it was the first of many spectacular saves, as she finished the night making 6 saves on 16 total shots, many in the first half while backed by a raucous Rose City Riveters section.
"It was amazing. During the game I thought I was playing in the World Cup. It was so loud and the crowd was amazing; it felt like a World Cup game." Angerer said after the match. "I think no club in the world has fans like we have in Portland; I haven't seen it anywhere else."
"She’s just so calm. Even in the locker room, she has that sense of calm about her. I’ve never seen anybody with hands this good. When that ball goes in there, it just doesn’t come out. And feet. One of the reasons we really wanted her was just because of her feet." Thorns head coach Paul Riley said of his German goalkeeper. "We’re going to play out of the back and in these conditions, it wasn’t easy to play out of the back. We were trying to play out of the back and she gave good support to both Nikki Marshall and Emily Menges. I would think even when Holiday’s getting up to take that penalty she’s thinking ‘My god. Nadine Angerer’s in front of me here,’ and it has got to be in your mind. I don’t care who you are in the world. She’s a top class goalkeeper and she made a couple huge saves for us today… I think Nadine is absolutely top class"
Facing the league's Golden Boot winner in Holiday, the Thorns knew they had to contain her, which they did all night with midfielder Amber Brooks dropping back into the defense and a slew of defenders nearby whenever she got into the attack.
Despite Kansas City testing the Thorns' defense early, forcing Angerer to make several spectacular saves, the Thorns had several chances of their own, the biggest of which was stopped on diving save by Nicole Barnhart on a sure goal that Christine Sinclair redirected off a cross by Courtney Niemiec in the 19th minute.
For the most part though, it was all Kansas City for much of the first half, maintaining possession and controlling the tempo of the game, getting dangerous chances in the 23rd, 27th, and 28th minutes.
Niemiec once again provided quality service in the box, nearly finding McDonald at the top of the 6, but it was punched away by Barnhart as both players and Becky Sauerbrunn collided while going for the ball in the 32nd minute.
McDonald once again found herself with an opportunity off a through ball from the center of the pitch, but an onrushing Barnhart got a hand on it before it could be controlled.
Both sides played back and forth for the remainder of the half, getting chances on either side but neither finding the back of the net until Long drew a penalty kick just before the break, as she was tripped in the box by Sauerbrunn. As she did last week, Long calmly stepped up and but the ball past a diving Barnhart into the left bottom corner, scoring her third goal of the season and tying her total for all of last season.
"I’m pretty sure it came off a throw-in. I turned on one girl and was going for the end line and I just went to cut back. Becky [Sauerbrunn] hit my shin and I went down in the box." Long said. "I was going to wait and see if [Nicole Barnhart] was going to guess a certain way or if she was going move before my kick and she didn’t. So I just did what I normally do and what I’m comfortable doing. Just the place I like [penalty kicks]. I was confident."
The halftime whistle blew shortly thereafter, with Kansas City leading in most offensive statistical categories, including shots (7-5) and corner kicks (7-4), while both sides were even on shots on goal, with 4 apiece and Angerer made 4 saves to Barnhart's 2.
Kansas City came out putting some pressure on the Thorns and looking to bring the match level, but they were unable to make a connection into the final third in their quest for an equalizer, including 3 successive corner kicks that Angerer and the Thorns' defense had to clear away.
The Thorns had their first chance of the half in the 54th minute, as Sinclair brought the ball up the right side and crossed it center to McDonald, but a diving Barnhart was able to meet her and the ball at the same time. Shortly afterward, Kerr send in a through ball to McDonald, but once again Barnhart was able to palm aside.
On the ensuing possession for Kansas City, Nikki Marshall collided with Tymrak on the edge of the box and was called for a penalty. Holiday stepped up to the spot, hit the ball just right, while Angerer guessed left, giving Holiday her first goal of the year in the 56th minute.
With the match level, both sides looked to press and had spells of possession, but scoring chances were few and far between, with missed connections and defensive stops quelling the offense.
The Thorns would become more of the aggressor after the inclusion of Mana Shim into the lineup, giving them a spark and opening up their offense, with Sinclair launching a shot at goal, but Barnhart was once again right there, while Angerer was there to push over a scoring opportunity by Jenna Richmond.
Kansas City saw the return of an old nemesis though, as their late-game struggles made an appearance in a big way, giving up a brace to McDonald in the last 6 minutes of the match.
Niemiec nearly gave the Thorns the lead on deep shot from the wing, but it went over the bar. Shortly thereafter, Sinclair drifted the ball over to Long, who passed it to a charging McDonald behind the defense, and she was able to easily slot it inside the far post in the 84th minute, giving the Thorns the lead.
Just 4 minutes later, McDonald once again found herself on the end of a perfectly placed pass, as Shim send the ball in from midfield, which McDonald was able to float above Barnhart, giving a herself her second goal and the Thorns a 3-1 lead.
"The first one, I was just working off the shoulder of the defender and I was looking to stay wide, stay on side and I saw that Allie Long was keeping the ball. I was calling for it, calling for it and I didn't give up on that run. I just focused on finishing low and far post." McDonald said. "The second goal, I was just looking to play high and split the two central defenders. I saw Mana Shim wind up with her left foot to play that long ball and I just ran onto it. I saw the goalkeeper come out and just wanted to get it over her and into the net."
For the Thorns, it was their first two goals from the run of play.
"That was exactly what we needed." Long said of the team finally breaking through on the run of play. "I know they had an opportunity and I was so thankful that she hit it over the bar. I think the next goal was the deciding factor in the match and whoever got that would finish the game off. I’m just happy it was us and I’m glad we got the go-ahead goal."
Riley was cautiously optimistic after the match.
"Well, I think again we can play better. You’ll probably hear that a lot for the first couple months of the season. I don’t think it was a great performance, but we hung around long enough. I still think we created some good chances in the first half probably a little bit more in the first half maybe than the second half. I think Kansas got a grip of the game after they scored and I think we were in trouble for about 10-15 minutes. Then, funny enough, the changes helped us. We changed formation a little bit; we tweaked it a little bit and Jess got a great goal. I thought the movement off the ball was really good. Then Jess [McDonald] iced it. It was a great ball from Mana for the third one. We rode our luck a little bit in that 15 minute patch. I think just to get through that 15 minutes was critical for us, which we did."
On the night, the Thorns finished with 10 shots on goal on 16 attempts.
The victory gives the Thorns their second of the season and first at home, while Kansas City dropped their second consecutive match.
The Thorns will travel to Rochester, New York to take on the Western New York Flash on Saturday, May 3 at 4:00pm PDT from Shalen's Stadium.
- The Thorns played their first home match at Providence Park since August 4, 2013, a span of 265 days.
- The Thorns are undefeated in 7 matches, dating to August 10, 2013 (5-0-2).
- The Thorns lead the all-time series with Kansas City at 3-2-1.
- Allie Long equaled her goalscoring output from 2013 at 3 goals.
- Jessica McDonald is 1 goal behind her output from 2013 at 2.
- Nadine Angerer faced 16 shots, the most she has faced all season, making 6 saves after making 4 total in the first two matches.
- Allie Long and Nikki Marshall started their 25th consecutive regular season match for the Thorns.