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Recap: Thorns draw USA U-23s 2-2

Bennett Dewan

The U23 national team drew the Thorns 2-2 in Portland’s second preseason match at Merlo field.

Portland started a lineup mostly consisting of likely starters: with AD Franch in goal, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnett, and Katherine Reynolds started on defense, with Emily Menges resting in favor of Elizabeth Ball. Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair, and Celeste Boureille were in midfield, with Ifeoma Onumonu, Mallory Weber, and Midge Purce up front.

The first half was sloppy and surprisingly chippy, both sides struggling to put together meaningful stretches of possession and trading a series of increasingly rough fouls back and forth. The game got off to an especially rocky start for the Thorns. Early on, the U23s had a handful of scramble-y chances as Portland struggled to play the ball out of their defensive third.

Gradually, the game opened up, with the Thorns getting their first chance in the 12th minute. Midge Purce received a short pass from Christine Sinclair near the right sideline, made a long diagonal run to the top of the 18, beat her defender, and took a solid shot that went just wide.

In the 19th minute, Lindsey Horan scooped up a ball from Julie James in the center of midfield, drove straight forward, and slid a pass through the defense to Ifeoma Onumonu, who took an angled shot that sailed past Bella Geist for the opening goal.

In the 25th, Meghan Klingenberg made another solo run into the box, trying to dribble past Ellie Jean, but the defender was able to block her shot for a corner kick.

The U23s nearly got one back in the 32nd minute, as an apparent miscommunication by the Thorns defense resulted in a loose ball in the goalmouth that bounced off Catarina Macario and into the net, but she was called offside.

The Thorns widened their lead to 2-0 in the 35th minute, when Meghan Klingenberg played a beautiful diagonal ball over the top of the defense to Mallory Weber, who took a quick juggle and headed it over Geist.

Goals and assists notwithstanding, Portland were poor overall in the first half. The U23s seemed determined to use their superior youth to run the Thorns to death, pressing them relentlessly in every area of the field. Everyone who contributed had as many, or more, moments of sheer sloppiness: Sonnett making a number of poor back passes, Horan handing the ball to the USA defense on a platter, Boureille complacently letting her pocket get picked in the central midfield.

Portland made two subs in the 36th minute, bringing on Kelli Hubly and Kimberly Boulos for Kling and Elizabeth Ball.

Franch made an excellent save in the 36th minute, diving backward to deflect a sharply angled shot by Dorian Bailey to concede a corner kick. The rest of the half passed fairly uneventfully, unless you consider passes to the opposition and poor clearances events.

To start the second half, the Thorns made a slew of changes, bringing on Tyler Lussi, Angela Salem, Simone Charley, Sandra Yu and Riley Smith for Midge Purce, Onumonu, Weber, Boureille and Katherine Reynolds. They lined up in a 4-2-3-1, with Salem and Horan in the double pivot and Lussi up top.

In the 58th minute, Catarina Macario—the same player who scored a jaw-dropping free kick goal against Houston on Sunday—got one back for the USA, dribbling into the left side of the goal area and taking a low angled shot that skipped past Franch and inside the far post.

Although the game had settled down substantially in the second half, the Thorns continued to make sloppy mistakes left and right. The group of veterans who had just come in from international duty were notably rusty; Horan, despite her good moments, was inconsistent, while Sonnett looked to be reprising her early 2017 form. Even Christine Sinclair gave up the ball under pressure on more than one occasion.

Portland made three subs in the 64th minute, swapping Meg Morris, Ashley Herndon, and Bobbi Eckler for Horan, Sinclair, and Lussi.

The youths had a couple more chances in this stretch, one of them another weird goalmouth scramble. Hubly made a last-minute slide tackle against Macario in the penalty area, the ball bounced around a little, and the U23s hit a shot off the post, whereupon Franch collected the rebound.

With the Thorns team now mostly trialists—minus Sonnett, Salem, and Morris—they had little in the way of a convincing attack. One good sequence in the 84th minute saw Morris play a nice pass to Salem in the center circle, who fired it to Boulos to quickly switch the point of attack—but Boulos took a hard touch and let the ball over the sideline. Salem was a bright spot in the second half, looking more composed under pressure than just about anybody on her team and making a handful of nice passes to play in her young teammates up front.

Franch made another great save in the 87th minute, diving right to collect another shot by Macario in midair. It wouldn’t be enough to keep Portland on top, though, as Macario banged in a screamer off the underside of the crossbar in the 90th minute. An uneventful two minutes of added time, and the U23s came away with the 2-2 draw.