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Thorns and Utah Royals Draw 1-1

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Tobin Heath scores her first goal of the season to win a point for the Thorns on the road.

Sinclair and Heath against the Spirit.
Kris Lattimore

Tobin Heath scored her first goal since returning from injury and the Utah Royals scored their first ever goal at home in a high energy match dominated by turnovers on both sides.

The Thorns saw Meghan Klingenberg return to the lineup and Crnegorcevic receive her first start of the season, but the overall shape and style remained unchanged from last week’s draw against Washington. Britt Eckerstrom retained her spot in goal, and with no other regular goalkeepers available the Thorns had to bring in former keeper Adelaide Gay as a replacement to sit on the bench.

Utah came out of the blocks with a high-pressing look, especially from their forwards Amy Rodriguez and Kelly O’Hara. They succeeded in pushing Portland back early: the Thorns defense were stuck playing the ball between themselves and booting it long for the first 15 minutes, and Utah looked dangerous when they won turnovers in their attacking third. Rodriguez in particular was very effective at pressing and won the ball in threatening positions, but shot high and wide several times.

Portland grew into the match though, getting their first good opportunity in the 18th minute through Midge Purce. Purce got some space on the right and sent in a cross for Ana-Marie Crnogorcevic which Abby Smith had to come off her line to punch away. Not long after Crnogorcevic played in Sinclair with a backheel only for Becky Sauerbrunn to block the eventual shot.

Sauerbrunn was immense in the first half: as Portland began to dominate, she seemed to be there to breakup any promising move before it resulted in a shot. The best opportunities that the Thorns created were set pieces and Purce crosses. Horan had a header cleared off the line by Amy Rodriguez in the 35th minute and just before halftime Purce put in a dangerous cross that Rachel Corsie nearly sent into her own net with a defensive header. Portland went into the break on top but without anything to show for it.

The Thorns carried the same energy over to the second half, with Horan again getting a header on target from a Klingenberg corner in the 49th minute, but sloppy play at the back resulted in a Royals goal just four minutes later. Emily Sonnett got a poor header on an aimless long ball over the top and Kelli Hubly stepped in to intervene but Amy Rodriguez picked her pocket, rounded Eckerstrom and passed the ball into the net. This was the Royals’ first shot on target and it would prove to be their only one.

With the team needing a change, Tobin Heath made her entrance in the 56th minute, and Andressinha made her club debut just afterward. In the 64th minute Klingenberg, after stretching to cut out a cross and deny Utah a shooting opportunity, worryingly came off holding her stomach in the place she strained her muscle two weeks ago. Her absence shifted the Thorns into a 4-2-3-1, with Onumonu coming on to play as striker and Weber and Heath the two wingers. The extra player on the front line made the Thorns press more effective and cut off Utah’s passing angles, immediately leading to a goal. Andressinha and Sinclair pressured Scott off the ball, Sinclair played Heath in on goal between Miramontez and Corsie and Heath casually chipped the ball over Abby Smith to make it 1-1.

Utah brought some pressure late but the Thorns defense closed up when called upon and managed to deny shots. Heath and Andressinha produced a few late chances for the Thorns as well: Heath beat Miramontez down the left and crossed for Sinclair only to be denied a shooting opportunity by Sauerbrunn again, and Andressinha played Purce in behind the Utah defense but could not get a cross in when matched up on Becca Moros. In the end, neither team could get a decent look at goal in the final minutes.