[Updated 5/20 with postgame quotes]
Portland snapped their five-game winless streak today with a 1-0 win against the Washington Spirit. The game saw a mostly listless offensive performance by the Thorns, punctuated by Ellie Carpenter’s first goal in a Thorns jersey late in the second half.
The Thorns fielded a lineup close to their best XI this week, but with a new shape: a 4-2-1-3 with Katherine Reynolds, Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, and Meghan Klingenberg starting on the back line, Andressinha and Lindsey Horan in the double pivot, Christine Sinclair in the number ten role, Tobin Heath and Midge Purce on the wings, and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic at striker.
The Spirit had the first chance of the game in the tenth minute, when Estefania Banini dribbled to the top of the box, found Caprice Dydasco on the left--unmarked by a Thorns defense that was shifted all the way over to Washington’s right--who sent in a cross that Ashley Hatch headed over the bar.
Portland had their first real look in the 18th minute, when Andressinha found Kling on the left wing, and she put in a cross that was headed down by a Spirit defender. Purce collected the loose ball and took a dipping shot that dropped just over the bar.
In the 21st minute, Heath had a frustrating near-chance when Sinclair got forward on a transition play and tapped a short through pass to her. Heath looked to have plenty of space to shoot, but she instead held onto the ball, seemingly waiting for runners into the box. After waiting a beat too long, she took her shot, a close-range effort that went straight to Aubrey Bledsoe. It was a moment that became a pattern throughout the half; on the handful of occasions Portland was able to get the ball into the area, they seemed to have developed an allergy to shooting and threw away almost every chance they had.
In the 40th minute, the Spirit were awarded a free kick just outside the 18--well inside Estefania Banini range--and opted to have Mallory Pugh take it. The former teen curled a shot around Portland’s wall and out over the endline.
Portland was largely ineffective throughout the first half, spending a lot of time trying to move the ball patiently out of their defensive third with very little success. The Thorns struggled to stretch Washington’s defense out of shape, and other than the chances wasted when players like Heath refused to shoot, they were often consigned to hitting balls over the top that absolutely no one was there to collect.
In the positives column, the long-awaited return of Menges was a sight for sore eyes; she brought a renewed stability to the back line and effectively neutralized Pugh, who had a handful of chances after bad giveaways by the Thorns. No stoppage time was added after the half, and the teams went to the locker rooms 0-0.
To start the second half, Mark Parsons swapped Purce and Heath, bringing Purce to the left wing and Heath to the right.
Both sides continued to struggle to find momentum to start the half. In the 51st minute, Horan took a weak shot from the top of the 18, which bounced off a Spirit defender and fell to Sinclair, who took a follow-up shot that was deflected out for a corner kick.
Washington had another wasted opportunity in the 54th minute, when Portland gave the ball away to Pugh in the midfield and she and Hatch broke toward the Thorns’ goal. Only Hatch’s own ineffectiveness saved the Thorns, when she placed her shot well to the right of goal. Jim Gabarra made an apt substitution in the 58th minute, sitting Hatch for known Thorns destroyer Francisca Ordega.
The Thorns were robbed of a blatant penalty kick in the 61st minute when Andi Sullivan shoved Purce from behind in the box, but karma was to swing Portland’s way several minutes later.In the 64th minute, Parsons made his first sub of the game, bringing in Ellie Carpenter for Purce. Five minutes later, Heath dribbled into the right side of the penalty area and sent a low cross in to Crnogorcevic high in the center of the box. She took a touch to send the ball on to Carpenter, who was charging into the left side of the area and sent the ball to the back of the net with a left-footed shot to put the Thorns up 1-0.
Celeste Boureille came on for Andressinha in the 72nd minute. The Brazilian hadn’t had a great game (though she was hardly alone in that regard), at times getting pressured off the ball by a physical Spirit midfield, and at other times making careless giveaways even when she had space.
In the 76th minute, Gabarra brought Meggie Dougherty Howard off for Mallory Eubanks.
Crnogorcevic, another Thorn who was mostly ineffective, came off for Tyler Lussi in the 81st minute. By this point in the game, Portland was content to sit back and defend, packing all ten field players into their defensive third whenever Washington had possession. Gabarra tried another power sub in the 83rd minute, with fabled Spirit matriarch Joanna Lohman coming on for Estefania Banini.
The last ten minutes (plus four of added time) passed in stressful fashion for the Thorns, who spent most of that time fending off Washington attacks in and around the penalty area. After what felt like an eternity of half-clearances and saves by Eckerstrom, the whistle blew, ending the Thorns’ winless streak and marking their first shutout of the season.
Lindsey Horan on breaking the winless streak:
“It’s been very frustrating, and I think, you know, each game we’ve been improving little things and we’ve had big mistakes leading to these ties and losses. Coming in here we kind of put everything together and said, ‘we need to eliminate all these mistakes, and we need to win. We need to turn this around.’ Away, it’s very difficult against a great team like DC, so this is huge, and I think everyone, when the whistle blew was thankful and grateful that we put all the work out and finally got the result we wanted.”
Mark Parsons on Ellie Carpenter’s goal:
“I said to Ana after the game, who was breaking into the box with a cross, I knew Ana was a great player, I didn’t know how kind she was in offering the assist to Ellie to get her first goal and be the youngest goal scorer. She said, ‘yeah they pushed me from behind, I tried to get there.’ But to get to Ellie to tap it home was great. To Tobin, we switched Tobin to the right side, we felt like she wasn’t in the first half, and suddenly we had her on the ball loads. We also felt it was going to be a matter of time where she could create something for us. So good for Ellie, and it was great to get Tobin in the game so much in the second half. Her and Sinc, to try to stop those two is a tough job and I’m just pleased we got Tobin on the ball in the right areas to create chances.”
Mark Parsons on how Andressinha is adjusting to the team:
“Really well. I think it’ll continue to take time to keep getting better, but she’s adjusted faster than we thought. Last week we were upset because I think she got kicked, elbowed, scratched, bitten, everything, by the other team. Tonight we just wanted to protect her, and we said to [Lindsey], ‘take care of your little sister in there and make sure she doesn’t get bullied like last week.’ But she stood up to all that, right, that’s the challenge, a Brazilian coming into the most competitive league, can she do the physical stuff? She can. Orlando still couldn’t get her off the ball so they had to do a bit more. She’s doing great. She’s just a quality person.”
Mark Parsons on the challenges of the trip:
“This trip’s been a bit tough just for things we can’t control. We got delayed, travel was long, new hotel, few logistics slipped up. We’ve just felt this was going to be the night we could get it done because other things weren’t good. Normally things are perfect for us, and the team showed character and found a way.”