(Updated 5/28 with post-game interviews)
The Thorns shut out the Boston Breakers 2-0 Saturday night in the second leg of an away-home series where the teams faced off twice in two weeks.
The Thorns came out swinging, with Hayley Raso making a run into the box and bouncing a shot off a Boston defender for a corner kick in the first minute. Nadia Nadim put her corner kick to the far post, where an unmarked Amandine Henry headed it goalward, putting Portland up 1-0 just 53 seconds into the game. Apparently, the ball glanced off Julie King before hitting the back of the net—the second time in her Thorns career, you'll recall if you've been following along, that Henry has done the hard work off a set piece but not gotten the credit.
As if to prove a point, a scant four minutes later, Henry dribbled from the center circle to just outside the penalty arc and shot into the bottom right-hand corner of goal to put the Thorns up 2-0.
In the 18th minute, Emily Sonnett played a superb long pass from the right sideline in Portland's defensive third. Christine Sinclair got on the end of it, took a couple touches to control the ball, and shot a hair's breadth wide of the far post. In the 25th minute, Hayley Raso shot up the left flank, tapping the ball around Emilie Haavi and trying to sprint around her, but Haavi tripped her up for a yellow card.
Despite seeing more chances than she has all season, Sinc couldn't quite find the back of the net. In the 32nd minute, Nadim hit a perfectly-placed cross from the right, but the captain headed it straight into Abby Smith from point-blank range.
In the 37th minute, Henry hit the crossbar from roughly the same spot where she notched her goal, after Sinc drew the defense's attention at the top of the box and played a tidy back pass to her. Three minutes later, on a transition play, Sinc switched the ball across the field to a wide-open Lindsey Horan on the right edge of the 18. She waited for Raso to punch through the defense on the left, but the Aussie couldn't get a big enough piece of the ball to take a good shot, and Abby Smith collected it easily.
The second half started with much the same tone, the Thorns pushing hard, and Boston looking increasingly sapped of the will to live. In the 49th minute, Nadim got tangled up with Allysha Chapman and took her down for a yellow card.
Raso continued to draw fouls in the second half, starting with a hard challenge by Adriana Leon in the 52nd minute.
In the 58th minute, Sinc went on another long solo run on goal, but Oyster and Christen Westphal closed her down, and she toe-tapped the ball right to Smith. Several minutes later, Nadim got off a long-distance shot as she was mysteriously completely unmarked in the central midfield, but it went wide.
In the 71st minute, Westphal knocked Sinc to the ground from behind for the Breakers' second yellow of the night. She got a hold of the ball after Nadim's free kick and shot, but after plinking the ball around in the box, the Breakers cleared it.
In the 76th minute, Sinc subbed off for Mallory Weber. Henry came off for Megan Cox a few minutes later, then Nadim for Kendall Johnson.
In stoppage time, Chapman was sent off, earning a straight red for a from-the-side swipe at Raso's shins. The Thorns didn't have many real chances in the final ten minutes. Long booted a long diagonal pass in Lindsey Horan's general direction in the dying minutes, but nothing came of it.
If it isn't obvious already, this was Portland's best performance yet. It should also be said that Boston was fairly poor on the night; by the second half, especially, they often looked flat-out bewildered, leaving the Thorns miles of space in dangerous areas.
But Portland did pass a key test.
Like so many games have this season, this one got chippy fast. Instead of wilting under pressure, they took everything the Breakers dished out and coolly maintained possession. They finally played like they knew they were the better team, which was very good to see, because in terms of sheer on-paper strength, they're the best in the league.
Although the scoreline makes Henry look like the hero, multiple players had breakout performances tonight. More important, though, is that Parsons's fluid-position vision is finally showing promise. Long, Henry, and Horan finally did trade off attacking and defensive roles effectively. The simplistic—and not incorrect—reason this worked was because they're all really dang good players, which is, of course, the reasoning. Any of them can play any midfield position.
The longer, more informative reason it worked was because they were finally getting the support they needed from the front three. Nadim was all over the pitch: winning the ball back in the midfield, flinging in crosses from both sides, and linking up centrally with Sinc to tear holes in the Breakers' back line. Raso took a similar role, and gave the best performance she's had yet in a Thorns uniform, to boot. Her touch, at last, withstood pressure, and at one point, she literally ran a circle around an unsuspecting Rose Lavelle, looking like she was in fast-forward as she scooped the ball straight from her feet. Sinc also had her best game yet as a deep-lying forward.
Add an onrushing Meghan Klingenberg to that equation, and the strength of this system becomes obvious: teams don't know where to look, because attacks can come from anywhere. They also played with pace and flexibility, looking willing to boot long passes and attack in transition when the opportunity arose.
Odds and ends
- Before the anthem, a moment of silence was held for the victims of Friday’s tragic attack on the MAX.
- Attendance: 18,637
- Amandine Henry’s English has gotten pretty good, although she won’t admit it.
- In a weirdly sweet moment, referee Ekaterina Koroleva helped Nadim up off the ground before showing her a yellow card.
- Hayley Raso was limping a little, but said Chapman just got her shins and she’d be fine.
Correction 5/28: This article originally stated, incorrectly, that Chapman was sent off after earning her second yellow card.