A severely under-manned Portland Thorns side drew the Washington Spirit 1-1 in a back-and-forth game tonight that saw Tobin Heath make her 2018 debut. The Spirit dominated the first half, and although the Thorns mounted a comeback late in the second half, they ultimately couldn’t find a second goal.
Portland lined up in a 3-5-2 with Britt Eckerstrom in goal—getting her first minutes in a Thorns kit—Katherine Reynolds, Emily Sonnett, and Kelli Hubly on the back line, Celeste Boureille, Lindsey Horan, and Christine Sinclair in the central midfield, Mallory Weber and Midge Purce at wingback, and Ifeoma Onumonu and Tyler Lussi at forward.
The Spirit, meanwhile, lined up in a 4-3-3 with Aubrey Bledsoe in goal, Caprice Dydasco, Estelle Johnson, Whitney Church, and Taylor Smith in the back, Tori Huster, Andi Sullivan, and Meggie Dougherty-Howard in midfield, and Francesca Ordega, Ashley Hatch, and Mallory Pugh up top.
Although Portland dominated possession for the first few minutes, Washington got a chance in the 8th minute on a breakaway, with Ashley Hatch driving at the back line and Mallory Pugh making a run, but Portland’s defense held up. It was a similar story throughout the first 20 minutes, with the Spirit’s fast, physical forwards knocking on the door a handful of times, but unable to break down an organized Thorns back line.
In the 17th minute, Onumonu beat Johnson and Church on the dribble—after receiving a perfectly-weighted long pass by Sinclair up the left wing—but her low cross was weak and went straight to Bledsoe.
A goalmouth scramble in the 26th minute almost resulted in a Spirit goal, as Ordega got herself one-on-one with Eckerstrom. Her close-range shot (cross?) fell to Huster, who took another stab, saved off the line by the Thorns keeper. Hubly finally cleared the ball out of the penalty area.
In the 27th minute, the Thorns nearly went up, as Purce fed a well-placed cross in to Horan at the far post, but the Spirit defense blocked it; although the ball fell to Sinclair, Portland wasn’t able to get another shot off.
The momentum was fairly back and forth throughout the first half, with players like Purce and Ordega creating chances going forward for the Spirit with fast, aggressive transition play making things difficult for Portland’s defense. “We struggled in the first half,” said Mark Parsons after the match. “We made it more complicated than it needed to be... I thought we saw the best of their front three.”
Washington made it 1-0 in the 37th minute after another weird goalmouth scramble; Onumonu got a foot on a corner kick by Huster, and the ball popped straight up. Eckerstrom couldn’t get a grip on the ball as it fell, and the ball fell to the ground. Ordega poked it across the line under Horan’s legs as the midfielder had fallen to the ground.
Sonnett received a yellow in the 39th minute for a hard foul on Ashley Hatch.
In extra time, Onumonu drew a penalty when Dydasco took her down in the box as she was driving toward goal. Sinclair stepped up to take the kick, calmly sending it to the right, with Bledsoe diving the wrong way to tie the game up 1-1 going into halftime.
Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic came on for Tyler Lussi to start the half, and got on the end of a well-weighted pass up the left by Sinclair. Crnogorcevic dropped it back for Onumonu, but she couldn’t get there in time to take a shot.
In the 60th minute, Onumonu subbed off for Tobin Heath, to the strains of a chant—”we’ve got Tobin Heath!”—that referenced most of the infamous “we’ve got fucking Tobin Heath” quote from Mark Parsons’s first-ever post-game press conference as Thorns head coach in 2016. When Heath came on, Sinclair pushed further up, with the two of them and Crnogorcevic trading off between getting forward and dropping back into the midfield, and leaving Boureille and Horan in a double pivot.
“It’s just great to have Tobin Heath back,” said Parsons. “It’s been a wild, wild period and she’s worked so hard to get back... we wanted to put her in a position where she could drift out to the left side and get her isolating moments, then also drift inside... Her link-up with Ana and Sinc and Linds and Cel was really, really good.”
In the 64th minute, Ordega made a solo run up the left wing and into the box, but Reynolds made a well-timed tackle and blocked the shot.
Portland missed a sitter in the 70th minute, when Sinclair sent a low cross in from the right side of the box. The slow-moving ball skipped past multiple Spirit defenders to find Horan, who was unmarked and had a clear shot at goal but completely whiffed.
The smash hit “Iko Iko” chant started up in the north end in the 73rd minute. Some fans were clearly still figuring out the lyrics, but it should perform well for the Riveters when the group gets it locked down.
Huster subbed off for Joanna “Grandma Jo” Lohman in the 74th minute; Ordega finally ended her reign of terror in the 79th minute, subbing off for Mallory Eubanks.
In the 81st minute, Sinclair popped a beautiful ball up and over Washington’s back line for Crnogorcevic, but the Swiss forward couldn’t quite find the right trajectory for her dive, and Bledsoe saved.
As the game wore on toward full time, Portland started to get more and more chances, with most of the game being played in the Spirit’s half. Purce beat the Washington defense a number of times, and Crnogorcevic had her share of chances, but Portland’s final ball was off for the rest of the night.
“We had opportunities obviously, so, [we just need to] just clean that up and finish,” said Heath after the game. “We started creating, but obviously something has to land in the back of the net.”
Portland drew their second penalty of the night in the 87th minute, as Bledsoe took Sonnett down in the box. Horan stepped up to take the penalty; Sinclair “couldn’t move” at the time, according to Parsons, who said, “I just spoke to Sinc, and she said, ‘I asked Linds to help me out.’ She took a big, big hit.” After a weird attempt at a fake—or possibly a slip—she took a poor shot straight at Bledsoe, and Crnogorcevic’s header off the rebound went over the bar.
Horan received Portland’s second yellow of the night in the 87th minute.
Washington made their final sub in the 89th minute, bringing on Havana Solaun for Smith.
The Thorns made a few more pushes in the four minutes of added time, but ultimately couldn’t find the back of the net, and the game ended 1-1.