For the first time in club history, the Thorns have drawn three games straight, and it’s not good that every single one of those draws felt like a success. With so many injuries, including Allie Long now, it’s hard for the Thorns to earn their points. And yet, every time in the last three games, the team have shown their metal as they have clawed their way back from goal deficits (against Seattle and Boston), or maintained a clean sheet despite pressure (against Kansas). Although all three things that contributed to Thorns success in 2016, namely set pieces, midfield and backline, are all suffering, the team has managed to weather the storm and continue getting points.
In front of a record-making crowd of 3,321 people, the Portland Thorns battled out against the Boston Breakers. The Breakers, who have been on a roll on their home turf, were ready to continue their positive momentum. The Thorns, straggling a little after a tough tie against KC, were ready for success.
First half: Weak
After a shaky first ten minutes, the Thorns were able to gather their bearings, though not after Natasha Dowie rocketed a shot against the near post. The gameplay of the first ten minutes was actually indicative of the half as a whole. The Boston Breakers came out with one goal: to score. Lavelle, Purce, Leon and Dowie dominated the attack, aided by Rosie White; all of them were on the ball, running out plays and offering each of their respective defenders a run for their money. Leon and Lavelle both levelled a successful ball into the box, and Dowie nearly got on the end of one of them.
Boston scoring a goal in the first half felt inevitable; the energy and chemistry of the team meant that their passes were successful, tight and well timed. The Thorns, on the other hand, looked like the weaker team on the pitch. Although Horan and Henry did their best with the midfield they had available, it was not pretty.
Breakers scored off a series of Thorns defensive errors; Lavelle sent a cross through to Leon, who Boureille tried to mark, but was unable to. Leon then connected to Dowie, who headed it straight into the net. The good thing for the Thorns was that near the end of the first half, after Boston scored and the pressure was there, the team was able to rally.
The focus of their rallying was surprising though; although Lindsey Horan has always been a crucial member of the team, it looks like in Allie Long’s absence, she has taken the mantle of the playmaker. Henry also stepped up, taking a more nuanced role in the attack; she dribbled into the box well, showing her true metal as she tried a couple of rockets on goal.
As the half time whistle blew, the Thorns were still behind 1-0. The play looked choppy, but the Thorns had had 53% of possession and they could still recover from the deficit.
Second half: Better
Although the second half overall was the better game, it didn’t start very well. In fact, it started with a Breakers goal, giving them a 2-0 lead. The goal was well done; a cross from Dowie that Kling was unable to block went straight White’s head and into the net.
The Thorns were able to really bring a new intensity to their game. Less than ten minutes after the White goal, Nadim spearheaded an attack into the Breakers’ box, and Horan ended up ripping a shot that deflected off Oyster’s hand. So, once again, the Portland Thorns had a penalty. For the third time in 6 games, Nadim stepped up to the penalty spot and sank the ball into the net. Smith read the ball right, going to her right, just as Nadim did, but there was too much power on the ball, and it sailed into the back of the net.
With her first goal of the game out of the way, the Thorns forwards were able to really ramp up the game. Time and time again Horan was well positioned and dangerous. The shots on goal, which began at a ratio of 1:4 in Boston’s favour at the beginning of the half, began to equalize. Portland
Then, in the 82nd minute, Portland finally managed to equalize. Off the run of Hayley Raso, who managed to shake her defender and create a diagonal space for Nadim to get the ball and score. Nadim, who now managed to rack up a brace in the game, was truly wonderful. Hopefully the success of playing the ball in the run of play will give her the confidence to continue dominating the field, and perhaps take a couple of more selfish shots in the box.
Should we satisfied with this result? No. The Thorns were the leading team in the 2016, and Parsons described his goal for the team this year as being “similar;” he wants to get his team back in the playoffs. It’s early yet, but is this a team that looks like a playoff team? No. While Boston was able to play creatively, create opportunities and dominate the game, Portland was lagging. Portland has always been a second half team; that isn’t a problem. Soccer has two halves for a reason. But the Portland we saw in the first half against Boston was unacceptable, just like the Portland that we saw in the first half against Seattle.
In his pre-road trip interview, Parsons admitted that he was looking for his team to bring “urgency, intensity, defending and attacking with that fire, and taking the game to them,” which were “going to be key” for a successful road trip. Did they bring this? In the second half of the match, the Thorns definitely brought the urgency and intensity. But the very fact that the first goal was scored off a PK from a handball in the box indicates that the Thorns were unable to bring the attacking fire. Only once Nadim had scored the PK, which in itself is impressive, was she able to finally score a goal during the run of play. Hopefully, this gives her the confidence to
In the end, the Breakers lost the lead because they are a young team who were unable to keep the lead. The dangerous question for the Thorns is, will they make the same mistake next weekend?