[Updated 7/24/17 to include post-game interviews]
Portland edged out the Spirit 2-1 at home in a narrowly-contested, often nervy battle that saw the Thorns go down a goal before digging their way out to get the win.
Contrary to expectations, the Thorns stuck with the triple-center back formation they deployed against North Carolina last week, with Katherine Reynolds joining Emily Sonnett and Emily Menges for her first start of the season. Meghan Klingenberg and Ashleigh Sykes played as wingbacks, with Lindsey Horan and Allie Long deep in the central midfield. Christine Sinclair played as a #10, working as a link between the midfield and the forwards. Tyler Lussi and Hayley Raso played at left and right forward, linking up with Kling and Sykes, respectively.
The first chance of the match went to the Spirit, when, in the 5th minute, Mallory Pugh took a shot from just above the penalty arc. Franch dove left to make a tidy save. The Thorns answered a minute later, when Sinc’s deflected shot fell to Lussi, who took one from inside the 18 that went well off-target.
Washington got another look in the 10th minute, when Christie Mewis drove in a low shot from the left-hand corner of the 18, but Franch easily collected it.
In the 12th minute, Arielle Ship was awarded a yellow for a hard foul against Emily Sonnett. Sonnett sent the resulting free kick into the penalty area, but Lussi couldn’t get around Johnson and dribbled the ball over the endline.
In the 26th minute, Raso tapped a volley from the left third of the 18 toward the penalty spot, which Johnson deflected. The ball fell to Horan, whose half-volley went well over the crossbar.
Christine Sinclair had the best opportunity to that point in the 29th minute, when she managed to get one-on-one with Stephanie Labbé inside the penalty area. She shot from the left edge of the six-yard box, but Shelina Zadorsky did well to deflect it for a corner kick. Kling sent the corner kick into the center of the box, where it bounced to the feet of Havana Solaun. Solaun took off toward goal; Sykes couldn’t quite catch up and grabbed her shirt, earning a yellow card.
In the 35th minute, Long got her head on a free kick by Kling, but sent it just wide.
Sykes and Lussi switched sides several times throughout the first half. The Sykes/Raso pairing on the right was generally more fruitful than the Kling/Lussi option on the left. Lussi drove up the left flank a handful of times, but usually couldn’t get around Johnson. Centrally, Sinc and Horan each had a couple of decent chances, but the finishing wasn’t there for either of them.
In the second half, Portland came out with a little more offensive punch than they’d shown to start.
In the first minute of the second half, Sinc played a nice sideways pass to Horan, unmarked just outside the penalty arc. Horan split Washington’s center backs, but her shot was weak and rolled into Labbé’s waiting arms.
The first good chance of the half came in the 50th minute, when Lindsey Horan sent a long ball to Allie Long’s head from the left side of the Thorns’ attacking third, but it was short and Labbé collected it. Moments later, Sinc hit the crossbar with a screamer from outside the penalty area.
Washington went up a goal in the 59th minute; painfully, for a Thorns standby making her first start of the season, it was Reynolds who Pugh’s cross deflected off in front of goal. An excruciatingly long second later, Solaun managed to put it in the back of the net.
The pain didn’t last long, though, as three minutes later, Long equalized, tapping in a free kick by Sonnett that Washington couldn’t clear.
In the 68th minute, Franch made a long throw to Raso, who tore down the pitch to take a hard shot from outside the penalty area, but it went wide.
Caprice Dydasco earned a yellow in the 72nd minute for taking Sykes down. In the 73rd minute, Reynolds came off for Celeste Boureille, and in the 75th, Washington brought on Cheyna Williams for Arielle Ship.
Franch made a ridiculous save in the 77th minute, flying up and backwards to get a hand on a close-range Kristie Mewis shot.
Also in the 77th minute, Mallory Weber subbed on for Lussi. Four minutes later, Sykes dribbled around Dydasco inside the right side of the penalty area to get a low cross to Weber. She tapped it into the back of the net for her first professional goal.
In the 85th minute, Cali Farquharson subbed on for Mewis. The Spirit had a couple more looks on goal in the dying minutes of the match, but couldn’t equalize. Most of those chances were on set pieces, but they also went through Solaun and Pugh, who were connecting well through the center of the pitch.
Overall, Portland didn’t look as flat offensively as they have in the recent past, but they also didn’t look as vengefully determined as they did last week against the Courage. Defensively, Francesca Ordega may not have been around to humiliate Portland for a second time, but Solaun, Pugh, and Mewis very nearly took over for her on a handful of occasions. There’s still work to be done on both sides of the ball; the Thorns’ second-half performance was decent, but their finishing still isn’t where it should be.
On the positive side, Sykes adapts better and better with each match. Her assist to Weber was a thing of beauty, and she did some hard defensive work, too. Sinc, despite a relative lack of good shots, continues to do work sitting in a deeper role than we’ve often seen her in the past. Franch, finally, is simply a monster. She’s been saving the Thorns on more occasions than the should have to.