The Thorns drew 1-1 away in Chicago tonight on the strength of a Lindsey Horan goal to stay undefeated against the Red Stars.
With Tobin Heath and Midge Purce both out of commission thanks to the training regimen at USWNT camps, the Thorns made a few changes to their starting XI. With Britt Eckerstrom in goal, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Menges, Katherine Reynolds, and Kelli Hubly lining up in a four-back. Lindsey Horan, Andressinha, and Christine Sinclair were in the central midfield, with Mallory Weber and Ellie Carpenter out wide and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic up top.
Things got off to a nervy start, with Chicago getting a chance thirty seconds after kickoff. Julie Ertz headed a long ball over the top to Sam Kerr, who sprinted between Menges and Reynolds to take a low shot. Eckerstrom dove, but the shot was wide and went out for a goal kick.
The nerviness continued for the next ten minutes or so, as the Thorns made a number of bad defensive miscues; at one point, Menges bounced the ball off Reynolds to concede a corner kick as she was trying to clear it. One of those miscues led to another chance for Chicago in the eighth minute, when Kelli Hubly passed straight to Yuki Nagasato. The Japanese midfielder sent a nice ball in to Kerr, who drove into the box and took a low shot that just deflected off of Menges’s foot and into the arms of a diving Eckerstrom.
From there, the game settled down, with the Thorns starting to maintain some possession and put together a few chances on goal. In the fifteenth minute, Horan worked the ball across the edge of the penalty area and found Carpenter open on the right. Carpenter took a nice shot from an angle, which Naeher blocked but didn’t collect. The ball fell to Weber to the left of goal, who sent it to Crnogorcevic in the middle of the six-yard box. Crnogorcevic’s one-touch shot went up and over the bar.
The bulk of the half was choppy and listless from the Thorns, who couldn’t figure out how to play through a crowded midfield. Every offensive effort consisted of balls lumped over the top in the general direction of Weber and Crnogorcevic.
In the 42nd minute, the Thorns conceded a penalty when Hubly took Kerr down in the box on a late challenge. Yuki Nagasato shot low and to the right, and Eckerstrom saved the initial shot but didn’t collect the ball—which fell back to Nagasato, who sent it over the prone Eckerstrom and into the net despite an attempt at a sliding block by Kling.
There was a late chance in stoppage time when Crnogorcevic sent in a well-placed cross for Carpenter, but the Australian’s run was a little late and she couldn’t get there in time, and the Thorns headed to the locker room down 0-1.
To start the half, Mark Parsons benched Hubly in favor of Tyler Lussi, putting her up top and shifting Ellie Carpenter to right back. The move immediately provided some stability to the back line, as beyond the penalty concession, Hubly had been inconsistent and mistake-prone throughout the half.
The Thorns equalized in the 48th minute. Andressinha sent in a free kick from ten yards outside the penalty area, which fell to the edge of the six-yard box, where Horan and Kerr both went up for the header. The second ball fell to Horan, who nailed her one-touch strike to the back of the net.
In the 54th minute, Horan drew a caution card for taking Danielle Colaprico down on a late challenge. As she was already sitting on four yellows, she will sit out next Friday’s game against Houston.
In the 60th minute, Celeste Boureille subbed on for Andressinha. Other than the assist and a couple good through-passes, she’d had a rough shift; opposing teams seem to have figured out that the way to contain her is by fouling her whenever she’s on the ball, and tonight was no exception.
Nikki Stanton earned a yellow in the 62nd minute for a foul on Lussi. In the 65th minute, Sarah Gorden came off for Casey Short, getting her first minutes of 2018. Tyler Lussi earned a yellow of her own in the 72nd minute when she took Julie Ertz down.
The Thorns had a long-anticipated debut of their own in the 77th minute, when Hayley Raso came on for Mallory Weber. The final sub of the night was on Chicago’s side, two minutes later, when Vanessa DiBernardo came on for Michele Vasconcelos.
Portland got another chance in the 82nd minute, when Kling sent in a cross from the left; she had Lussi, Horan, and Raso crashing the box, but Lussi whiffed and missed the ball, and it slid across the face of goal harmlessly.
Eckerstrom had a save followed by a needless error in the 86th minute, when DiBernardo played Kerr in on a transition play and the Australian beat Menges to get off a left-footed shot. Eckerstrom dove left and just got a hand on it to keep it out for a corner kick. On the corner kick, though, she made the weird decision to punch a ball that she should have easily caught; it bounced straight up in the air, and she then had to tip it over the bar for a second corner.
Overall, the second half was better than the first, with Carpenter a clear improvement over Hubly at right back. The Thorns did a better job playing through the midfield and had a handful of decent looks on goal, several of them from crosses by Klingenberg. Raso didn’t have a particularly spectacular shift, but injected the offense with a spark the Thorns have clearly been lacking all season. Hypothetically, if Tobin Heath is ever healthy at the same time as Raso, they might have a functional offense on their hands. To stay in the positives column, though, after that first-minute Chicago chance, Menges did well throughout the game to contain Kerr one-on-one.
The Thorns head to Houston next Friday to take on the Dash.