The Portland Thorns fell 2-1 to eighth-ranked FC Kansas City tonight, in a weather-delayed road match that kicked off more than two hours late.
The match started slow, with few chances for either side in the first half. Amandine Henry hit a beautiful lofted pass in the sixth minute, from the Thorns’ defensive third all the way to Ashleigh Sykes at the top of the penalty box. Sykes did well to control the ball in the air as she turned to face the goal, but couldn’t get a solid shot off, and the ball fell to Kansas City keeper Nicole Barnhart.
The next few opportunities went Kansas City’s way, with Sydney Leroux narrowly missing a shot in the 17th minute. Shea Groom slipped between Emily Sonnett and Katherine Reynolds on a breakaway run into the top of the penalty area, then laid the ball back to Leroux, who was streaking up the right wing behind her. Leroux sprinted around Emily Menges to shoot, but her attempt went just past a diving AD Franch and out over the goal line.
Lo’eau LaBonta had another near miss in the 22nd minute, when she received a cross from Desiree Scott in top left-hand corner of the penalty box. Her shot sailed narrowly left of the goal.
The rest of the first half was largely a slog on both sides. On the Thorns’ end, Meghan Klingenberg did a lot of running up the left flank and cutting inside, but to little effect: Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan, who controlled the midfield for the first fifteen minutes, were usually nowhere to be found. Henry, who, besides the near-assist to Sykes, made a few runs herself early in the match, also went missing, and when she did make herself known, it was in making a sloppy giveaway or a poor back pass on more than one occasion. Both sides found themselves gummed up in the central midfield and did a lot lumping the ball ineffectually in the general direction of the goal.
In the 44th minute, the Thorns were awarded a penalty kick when Becca Moros stomped on Sinc’s foot just inside the center of the penalty area. Henry shot left, Barnhart dove the wrong direction, and the Thorns were up 1-0 to close out the half.
Early in the second half, Becky Sauerbrunn made an outrageous mistake in misclearing a ball from the penalty area directly into Hayley Raso, some five feet away. The ball ricocheted to Dagny Brynjarsdottir’s feet, but Barnhart, on her knees at the edge of the six-yard box, made an excellent close-range save.
Portland had the better of the next fifteen or twenty minutes. The midfield reappeared and started to string together some passes. A nice non-look came in the 54th minute, when Sinc threaded a pinpoint pass through the Kansas City back line to Raso, who was making a run from the left, but Raso couldn’t get her shot off.
Raso had another chance in the 57th minute, when Henry sent a pass a third of the way up the right-hand flank to Sykes, who cut inside to cross to her fellow Aussie, but Raso took a bad touch and let it roll out over the goal line.
In the 62nd minute, the Blues made the first substitutions of the match, bringing on Brittany Ratcliffe for Erika Tymrak and Katie Bowen for LaBonta. The Thorns followed suit a minute later, swapping Brynjarsdottir for Nadia Nadim. Unfortunately, Nadim made little difference offensively, and things started to get away from Portland in the subsequent minutes.
Kansas City’s comeback started in the 65th minute, when Sykes committed a gentle breeze of a foul against Moros, who went down just outside the left edge of the penalty area. Portland set their wall up fairly far to the left, and Yael Averbuch effortlessly curled a right-footed shot around it, past Franch’s fingertips inside the left post.
The addition of Ratcliffe and Bowen breathed life into a stale Kansas City attack. In the 69th minute, Bowen sent a cross to the dead center of the penalty area, where a loosely-marked Leroux headed the ball home to put the Blues up 2-1.
From there, Portland looked flat and defeated. An exhausted-looking Sykes subbed off for Mallory Weber in the 72nd minute, summing up the remainder of the night with one downcast stare as she jogged off the field.
Kansas City made a final substitution in the 80th minute, bringing on Maegan Kelly for Leroux. The unfortunately-named Kelly soon gave her team one last look at goal when she robbed Menges in the Thorns’ defensive third, dribbled a few yards, and took a shot from distance that Franch had to dive to stop.
All in all, this was a rough night for the Thorns. There were a few flashes of good possession, but overall, they looked tired and disjointed. Worse than the lack of offense was the defensive disorganization that led to the Blues’ second goal. Keep in mind just how poor this Kansas City side has been offensively. They’ve got the second-fewest goals in the league, after Boston. They’ve spent most of the season looking like the league’s House of Atreus, cursed to one knife in the heart after another. Leroux has been largely useless without a strike partner as good as Amy Rodriguez, and Sauerbrunn, as demonstrated tonight, has been proven mortal and fallible on many occasions.
That said, Kansas City was at home, with a much more forgiving travel schedule in the preceding weeks. Unlike the Thorns, who were missing Tyler Lussi after she was suspended for pulling Dani Colaprico’s hair, as well as Allie Long (on an “excused absence,” no less), the Blues actually had a bench.
Portland comes back home to play the Houston Dash yet again this Saturday. Let’s hope they get some sleep in the meantime.