[Updated with post-game quotes 5/26]
The Portland Thorns notched their second shutout win in a row and first win at home in over a month tonight against the Utah Royals. Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan both scored in what was Portland’s most comprehensive performance to date, despite some nervy moments in the first half.
With Emily Sonnett out, the Thorns started Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Menges, Katherine Reynolds, and Midge Purce in the back and Britt Eckerstrom in goal. Andressinha and Lindsey Horan started in the double-pivot, with Christine Sinclair in the ten, Tobin Heath and Ellie Carpenter on opposite wings, and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic up top.
The first 15 or 20 minutes of the game passed in what’s become a familiarly choppy fashion, the Thorns making a number of unforced errors to turn the ball over in various areas of the field.
The Thorns broke through Utah’s pressure to open the scoring in the 18th minute. With three Utah players pressuring her, Carpenter flicked the ball over Desiree Scott’s head to find Sinclair in a massive hole in the midfield. Sinclair took one touch to send a half-volley on to Heath, who had space running at the Royals back line. She decided to hold up and thread a pass through to Sinc, who had slipped between Utah’s lines near the penalty arc. She took a few touches to settle the ball and sent a shot past a diving Abby Smith. The goal marked, somewhat shockingly, the first time the Thorns have taken the initial lead at home all season.
After the goal, the Thorns settled into the game a bit, playing keep-away with short one-touch passes to maintain possession under Utah’s press. However, they had yet to get those irksome individual mistakes completely out of their system, and the Royals nearly capitalized on that in the 29th minute when Andressinha made a careless pass in the general direction of her back line. Erika Tymrak swooped in to pounce on the slow-moving ball and get an open shot at goal, but fortunately, her shot was poor and it was a routine save for Eckerstrom.
Portland nearly got another in the 35th minute. Some quick passing through the midfield put Carpenter in crossing position to the right of the area. She sent one in, where it was deflected off a Royals player and fell to Sinc. Smith blocked the captain’s shot but wasn’t able to hold onto the ball and it fell to Heath, who blasted her shot directly into Becky Sauerbrunn’s face.
Portland made it two in the 39th minute. Meghan Klingenberg sent in a cross from the left wing and it fell to a charging Horan, who caught it on her thigh and tapped it to the back of the net from point-blank range.
To follow up her assist, Kling made a goal-line save in the 45th minute. The Thorns struggled to clear a loose ball from the penalty area and Tymrak flicked it to Amy Rodriguez in the six-yard box. Rodriguez’s half-volley went past Eckerstrom and would have gone in if Kling hadn’t gotten a foot on it to clear. The Thorns went to the locker room up 2-0 for the first time all season.
Portland had an early second-half chance when Sinclair played a ball into the penalty area for Crnogorcevic, but Smith was closing down and she wasn’t able to put her shot on frame.
The Menges Difference again made itself plain in the 49th minute, when A-Rod and Gunny Jonsdottir got loose on a transition play with just her and Reynolds back. Menges stayed with A-Rod and just got a piece of the ball, enough for Reynolds to scoop it up and make the clearance.
Somewhere around the 51st minute (tragically, it wasn’t caught on camera), Kling sprinted toward the left sideline after an overhit pass and kicked the ball directly into Mark Parsons’s head. In the 58th minute, Angela Salem subbed on for Andressinha.
The Royals got another near-chance in the 61st minute, with Katrina Gorry hitting a long pass up the center and into the penalty area to A-Rod. She nearly got one-on-one with Eckerstrom, but the Thorns keeper came off her line and dove onto the ball as Rodriguez charged.
In the 63rd minute, Laura Harvey made her first substitution, bringing on Norwegian international Elise Thorsnes for Tymrak. Parsons made his second sub at the same time,
In the 67th minute, Horan picked up a yellow for time wasting after she angrily kicked the ball out after a foul was called against Heath.
A brief scuffle ensued several minutes later; Rachel Corsie fouled Heath, knocking her down from behind. As Heath was lying on the ground, Corsie stooped over her and seemed to be saying something (bonus points for any good guesses in the comments below!). Kling came over, put a hand on Corsie’s shoulder, and looked to be telling her to back off when the Scottish defender shoved her, at which point players from both sides looked ready to scrap. Fortunately, things didn’t go the way of the T2-St. Pauli game earlier this week and escalate to the point of red cards, though Corsie did earn a yellow for dissent.
The Thorns had another near miss in the 72nd minute. Heath got free on the left wing and hit a pinpoint cross to a charging Crnogorcevic. The forward, who was one-on-one with Smith, looked poised to score her first at Providence, but her diving header went straight to the Royals keeper.
Harvey made two more substitutions in the 77th minute, bringing on Katie Stengel for Diana Matheson and Katie Bowen for Brooke Elby. In the 82nd, Crnogorcevic sat for Ifeoma Onumonu.
Jonsdottir earned a yellow for persistent infringement in the 83rd minute.
Sinclair had another chance in the 87th minute when Heath found her unmarked at the top of the penalty area and she sent in a rocket that Smith was just able to tip over the bar. A minute later, the Royals answered when Jonsdottir sprinted around Menges and crossed one in for Rodriguez, who would have put Utah on the board if not for the right goalpost.
All in all, despite the numerous individual mistakes in the first half, this was the Thorns’ best performance to date. Heath had an excellent game, creating chance after chance for the Thorns, linking up well with Kling, and doing good defensive work. The Sonnett-less back line mostly looked strong, especially by the second half. Portland has yet to be rid of their individual mistakes, but thanks to an increasingly functional offense and a closer-to-full-strength defense, those mistakes didn’t bury the team tonight as they have in the past.
Mark Parsons on the game as a whole:
“I thought we were really good in the final third in the first half. We didn’t get in there loads, but every time we got in there, we were really sharp. I thought we moved the ball with purpose in the final third, and we were creating some really good chances and taking them. I thought it took a while to get going, and the goal woke us up.
“What was really strong from the beginning was the great work the back line did. Pushing Kath in central, it’s the first time she’s played center back in a four for a while. Midge at right back. It’s been an enjoyable challenge of getting people in and getting them experiences in the back line. It’s not been super consistent, which is what back lines obviously feed off, but whoever’s gone in there is stepping up big time—especially what Menges and Katherine had to deal with in A-Rod, who’s been one of the most dangerous number nines we’ve faced, because she can do it all. Back to goal, spinning in between, link-up, off the shoulder.”
Parsons on Tobin Heath:
“I think Tobin was very important again tonight, and I think she’s been exciting and very important in these last few games and since she’s been back with us. If you ask her, she’s nowhere near where she knows she can be, she’s nowhere near where she wants to be... So she’s been great, she’s been great and exciting, her energy to beat people and get behind lines, we didn’t find her as much as we could behind their back line—because she was breaking them—but then she comes in and she slows it down and she gets us combining and gets us on the ball, and releases pressure... Honestly, not holding back, she’s nowhere near where she wants to be... She’s been doing a lot of extra finishing with both feet and wanting a lot more finishing. I thought she’s done well getting into the 18 to get shots off and add that to her game. In ‘16 when we had her all year, she was creating a lot and she wants to be ruthless right now. She brings a lot but I think this is just the beginning for her.”
Christine Sinclair on managing Utah’s pressure:
“I thought we did all right. They’ve got some world class players in there and they’re a feisty bunch, but when we did break through them, I thought we were very dangerous. In the second half, when you’re up two goals and you’re just trying to close out the game, we stopped pushing a bit and just defended, but I thought we did well.”
Sinclair on Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic:
“I mean, Ana, she’s been incredible for us. You think of a nine, she’s a true sense of a nine, she never stops running, never stops working, she’s able to hold it up for us, then in the box she’s fearless. I think she was unlucky not to get a goal tonight. That’ll come for her, but I think she’s added so much to our team.”
Lindsey Horan on the game overall:
“We’re really happy with the win. It’s always amazing to get a win in front of the home crowd. I think that wasn’t our best performance by any means, but we have to be positive and take the three points and look forward to our game on Wednesday.
“2-0’s not ever a comfortable feeling. You want to get that third goal. But it gives you a little sense of relief and you want to keep playing a little bit more. Utah’s such a good team; I think Laura [Harvey] has done very well with them, and they play, and they move, and they do such good things, so it was hard for us to really show our game.”
Horan on the physicality of the match:
“I think that was the biggest part of the game, the physicality, some of the tackles and duels in there and whatnot. I wish it wasn’t as much of a physical game and there was more playing, but unfortunately that’s how it is sometimes and how NWSL is sometimes.”