The Thorns beat Houston 2-1 at home today, in front of a brunch-hour crowd of 18,243. It was Portland’s third win in a row, and put the Thorns level with Chicago at the top of the league table, if only until the Red Stars/Orlando and Courage/Reign matches later this evening.
Portland went with the same three-back formation they’ve used in the last two home games, with some personnel changes. In front of AD Franch in goal, Emily Sonnett played in the center of the triple-CB back line, with Katherine Reynolds and Emily Menges to her right and left, respectively. Meghan Klingenberg and Ashleigh Sykes played as left and right wingbacks, with Lindsey Horan and Dagny Brynjarsdottir sitting at central defensive midfield. Tyler Lussi, Christine Sinclair, and Hayley Raso were up top, with Sinc dropping back to connect with the midfield.
In the 11th minute, Dagny was shoved from behind to the right edge of the penalty area, earning a free kick. Kling’s lofted ball bounced high off a Houston player’s head before falling to Lussi at the far post. Lussi headed across the face of goal to an unmarked Sonnett, who easily tapped it in.
In the 18th minute, Carli Lloyd played a pass from the center of Houston’s attacking third to Janine Beckie on the right wing. Beckie got a cross past Menges to find Nichelle Prince at the top of the penalty area, but Franch easily saved her shot.
Caity Heap earned a yellow in the 22nd minute for pulling Sykes’s shirt as the Aussie made a run up the right wing.
Heap put one in the back of the net in the 27th minute, receiving the ball from a Carli Lloyd header off a corner kick, but she was well offside. A minute later, Sinc took a driven shot from high in the center of the penalty area, and it deflected off the Houston defense. Lussi took a crack at the rebound, hitting the crossbar.
In the 32nd minute, Horan knocked Heap down from behind in the penalty box, conceding a penalty kick. Franch dove right—the correct direction—but couldn’t get a hand on Lloyd’s low shot.
Lussi notched her first NWSL goal in the 39th minute to equalize; it started with Sinc hitting a long diagonal ball to Kling, who was streaking up the left wing. Kling took on two defenders outside the six-yard box, the ball bounced around a bit, and finally fell to Lussi, who drove a hard shot past Campbell into the far post.
In the 40th minute, Lloyd earned a yellow card for a hard tackle against Kling.
The last chance of the half went to Houston, when Heap shot through traffic from the top of the box. Franch made a great diving save.
Amandine Henry subbed on for Lussi in the 59th minute, slotting into the second defensive midfield spot alongside Horan, while Dagny moved forward.
In the 69th minute, Lindsey Horan headed one on frame, but Jane Campbell made an excellent effort to deflect it over the bar.
In the 75th minute, Dagny subbed off for Allie Long, who took over for Horan alongside Henry, while Horan rotated into Dagny’s spot at forward. Five minutes later, Long put a shot over the crossbar after a string of passes ended with Raso tapping it her way at the top of the penalty area.
In the 89th minute, Sinc took a close-range shot from just outside the six-yard box, but Campbell dove to save it.
Early in the seven minutes (thanks to a water break) of stoppage time, Celeste Boureille came on for Ashleigh Sykes.
Some performance reviews
The highlight of this match, from the Thorns’ end, was the connection between Sinc and Raso. Raso is in the best form of her career, growing into her role as a creative attacker as well as an aggressive striker. It’s a development that’s allowing Sinc to get more involved in the attack than she was early in the season, when defenses could often mark her out of the game. This pair looked every bit as good, today, as Sinc and Long ever did, in the days when Long was playing as a forward or attacking midfielder.
Horan had an excellent first half, one of her best performances of the season. Sticking her in the double pivot, with Sinc in front of her, was a look that harkened back to her form in the pre-Henry part of the 2016 season. She's one of the most tenacious players on the squad in the central midfield, both on and off the ball; Horan as a stopper is a look I'd like to see more of, going forward.
Where are we at on Meghan Klingenberg these days?
Kling has had... some rough moments. In one outrageous lapse of judgment early in the second half, she watched without moving as a pass from the central midfielder intended for her rolled into a 20-yard open space on the Thorns’ left wing, where it was then recovered by a Dash defense that seemed stunned at this turn of events. It was like watching the outfielders in a T-ball game pick daisies as fly balls sail over their heads. More generally, she also seems to fail to stop crosses more often than not these days.
On the flip side, she’s been one of the Thorns’ more prolific creators in recent weeks, both in working her way up the flank to feed crosses in from the left, and taking solid cracks at goal herself. She’s also putting in some very good shifts as the Thorns’ interim set-piece taker, with a couple near-goals resulting from her corner kick efforts today. So: do we call this a wash?