Christine Sinclair had a brace as the Thorns handed the Chicago Red Stars their first-ever loss in a home opener tonight, holding onto a 3-2 lead in a back-and-forth match that saw some sloppy mistakes from two injury-depleted sides.
The Thorns started almost the same group as last week, but with Tyler Lussi getting the start over Ifeoma Onumonu. Mark Parsons—who was not on the field following a suspension for an altercation with an official at the season opener—again deployed the three-back formation, starting Adrianna Franch in goal, Kelli Hubly, Emily Sonnett, and Katherine Reynolds at center back, and Meghan Klingenberg and Midge Purce at wingback. Christine Sinclair, Lindsey Horan, and Celeste Boureille started in the midfield, with Lussi and Mallory Weber up top.
If Portland had gaps in their lineup, Chicago was worse off, missing Vanessa DiBernardo, Julie Ertz, Stephanie McCaffrey, Yuki Nagasato, Rosie White, and Casey Short to injury, and Sam Kerr to international duty.
The game got off to a nervy start, with Chicago briefly pinning the Thorns into their own half and neither team able to put together much meaningful possession. As the game settled down, the Thorns got the first real chance of the game in the 5th minute. Mallory Weber beat Arin Gilliland and Sarah Gorden to fire a low cross off to Tyler Lussi, who was lurking by the near post, but she hit her shot well wide.
The Thorns opened the scoring in the ninth minute on a Klingenberg corner kick; her right-footed ball hit a Chicago defender and fell to Lindsey Horan, who let the ball bounce, spun, and fired a pacy right-footed strike over the head of Dani Colaprico, who was defending the far post.
For much of the half, the depleted Red Stars struggled to move the ball through the midfield under Portland’s high press, but a couple half-chances went through Sarah Gorden and Arin Gilliland up the left wing; Reynolds had a number of big defensive plays, keeping Gorden contained as she drove up the left.
Chicago equalized in the 31st minute. Summer Green nutmegged Sonnett in an ugly scramble at the top of the penalty area, poking the ball to Sofia Huerta, sho passed to a wide-open Alyssa Mautz on the right side of the box. Klingenberg got a foot on Mautz’s sharply-angled shot, but the slight deflection wasn’t enough and the ball sailed past a diving Franch.
Weber had a good chance in the 38th minute, catching Alyssa Naeher off her line but sending her shot just high.
Two minutes later, Sinclair put the Thorns up 2-1. Sam Johnson tried a lazy back pass to Naeher, and the Canadian pounced on the loose ball and charged into the left side of the box. Naeher came out to sweep up the ball, but she mistimed her tackle, and Sinclair calmly took two touches and sent a perfectly-placed low shot to the far post.
To start the second half, Onumonu came on for Tyler Lussi.
Franch came up big in the 51st minute, as Gilliland sent in a long-distance shot/cross from the left side of the field. Franch dove backwards and just managed to get a hand on the wind-assisted ball, sending it out for a corner kick.
In the 55th minute, Onumonu beat Gorden to hit an excellent cross to Mallory Weber on the far edge of the six-yard box, but her header sailed wide.
Colaprico received a yellow and conceded a penalty kick in the 64th minute for a handball in the area. Sinclair took the penalty, sending a straightforward low shot to the left post. Naeher guessed correctly, but couldn’t dive far enough to block the shot, and Portland widened their lead to 3-1.
Three minutes later, Chicago made it 2-3. Huerta sent a low cross from the right side of the penalty area to Mautz, who was crashing the box from the midfield. Mautz fired a left-footed strike past Franch, who dove left but couldn’t stop the shot.
In the 72nd minute, Mallory Weber came off for Elizabeth Ball. She slotted in at right wingback, and Purce moved to forward, switching sides with Onumonu throughout the rest of the game.
That move looked close to paying off several times, as sloppy giveaways by Chicago in the midfield allowed Purce and Onumonu to get forward on a number of transition plays. The two former Boston players weren’t quite on the same page, though, and never managed to connect their final passes.
Chicago nearly equalized several times in stoppage time, with Franch making a couple diving saves, and one long-range strike going off the crossbar, but weren’t able to find the back of the net.
[Correction 4/1: The penalty kick was awarded for a handball by Colaprico, not a foul, as originally stated.]