The Thorns came away with a 2-0 victory tonight in their home match against the Dash in as many weeks. In front of a crowd of 19,672, it was a return to form after Portland’s sluggish midweek loss in Kansas City on Wednesday.
With most of his starters back from their various midsummer tournaments and vacations, Mark Parsons returned to a three-back formation, with Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett, and Katherine Reynolds holding down the central defense. Meghan Klingenberg and Ashleigh Sykes started in opposite wingback slots, with Amandine Henry and Lindsey Horan in a double-pivot between them. Christine Sinclair sat in the #10 spot she’s been occupying recently, with Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Hayley Raso switching sides throughout the half up front.
Portland had the better of the first half, starting off strong with a good look on goal in the second minute. Dagny placed a beautiful volley from the left side of the attacking third to a waiting Henry on the six-yard line, but Henry’s header went over the bar.
The Thorns opened the scoring in the 14th minute when Kling placed a volley at the edge of the six-yard box. Horan streaked between Houston’s center backs and easily beat the 5’4 Janine Van Wyk in the air, heading the ball home.
Houston had their first chance of the half (which they would wrap up with a total of three shots, none of them on goal) in the 16th minute, when Janine Beckie took a bending shot from midway between the penalty box and the center circle. Her effort sailed inches over the bar, landing on the top netting.
In the 18th minute, someone got a yellow card. It was officially awarded to Brynjarsdottir, but for all appearances, it was a case of mistaken identity, as it was Horan who took down Nichelle Prince. But if this was, indeed, an error, it’s one that goes in the Thorns’ favor, as this would be Horan’s fifth yellow of the season, meaning she’d miss next week’s match against Seattle.
In any case, the Dash’s next real opportunity was a brief nervy moment in the 27th minute, when the Thorns struggled to clear their corner kick. Sinc finally got a foot on it and sent it out over the sideline. Finally, in the 34th minute, Poliana had a goal that was called back when the sideline official raised his flag.
To start the second half, Nadia Nadim subbed on for Brynjarsdottir, and got to work right away: in the 49th minute, she fed a cross to an unmarked Henry as she ran into the six-yard box. Henry’s second effort proved more fortuitous than her first, and her headed ball sailed breezily past Jane Campbell.
Allie Long, back from a two-game vacation, replaced her French teammate in the 54th minute. The Dash made their first substitution of the night in the 57th minute, swapping Cami Privett in for Sarah Hagen.
Houston’s Janine Beckie received a yellow card in the 61st minute for clipping Sonnett’s foot from behind and taking her down.
Long made her presence known in the 62nd minute, when she received a pass from Horan in a miles-wide chasm in Houston’s attacking third, and made a quick, well-placed pass to Raso as she ran up the right wing. Unfortunately, Raso’s shot went just wide.
From there, things got weird.
Christine Sinclair earned a yellow in the 69th minute for a stomp on Rachel Daly’s foot, seemingly called a good twenty seconds after the actual play, for maximum confusion value. Some three minutes later, Daly returned the favor, earning her own yellow—which, in the moment, I thought was awarded for a foul on Sykes, but on the stat sheet was recorded as being for dissent. In the 76th minute, Cami Levin jumped on the caution train by taking Raso down from behind.
75' - Houston's Roccaro gets a yellow card.— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) August 20, 2017
76' - Houston's Levin gets a yellow card.#yougetayellowcardandyougetayellowcard#BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/JljBEhgXTI
(Don’t mind the mistaken Roccaro yellow referenced in this tweet. Or is it a mistake on the stat sheet? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
The drama took a pause in the 78th minute, when Raso subbed out for Mallory Weber.
Moments thereafter, Daly’s huge bummer of a night ended when she did something nobody saw in the penalty area, earning her second yellow and trudging off the pitch. I hear Emily Sonnett also earned a yellow in connection with that incident, but missed the thing itself amid the confusion.
Nadim got a late chance when, in the 83rd minute, Weber sent a pass from the right edge of the penalty box to Sinc (unmarked) at the top of the box. Sinc had an easy lane to Nadim, who, naturally, was also unmarked, at the right edge of the six-yard box. Nadim took a hard shot but it went just wide of the far post.
As you may have surmised from phrases like “naturally, was also unmarked” and “miles-wide chasm,” this was a poor game by Houston. Just as bad as their defensive failures was their sluggishness in the attack. They only rarely made it past Horan, Long, and Henry, and when they did, tended to get jammed up in the wings or take wild shots from distance, unable to turn Portland’s back line or make penetrating runs.
It’s a reminder that whatever you think of Carli Lloyd (and I think a lot of things about her), she’s central to the Dash when they’re playing their best. As much as you can look at this as a return to form for the Thorns—which it was—the Dash were painfully disorganized, and looked as frustrated and demoralized in the last ten or fifteen minutes as you’ll ever see a team.
Kling continues to excel as a wide attacker. This was her fifth assist of the season—meaning she’s now tied in that category, for whatever this fun fact is worth, with Marta. “The consistency of her delivery has just grown massively. She worked really hard in the offseason,” said Parsons of her set piece placement.
Finally, it’s very good to have Nadim back. She changes the flow of the game into the attacking third when she steps on the field; she does just as much work as Sinc in moving the ball forward, with Raso’s speed and aggressiveness when turned towards the goal.
The Thorns go on the road against Seattle next Saturday at 1 pm.