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Portland Thorns dash past Houston 3-1

Anya Button

In a game played in sweltering Houston heat, the Portland Thorns came up with three goals and three points against the Houston Dash on an impressive performance defined by periods of midfield dominance and mistakes from both sides.

The Thorns welcomed back Adrianna Franch, Emily Sonnett and Tobin Heath into the starting lineup, while Celeste Boureille took the place of Lindsay Horan, who was suspended for yellow card accumulation. The Dash threw all three of their new signings directly into the starting lineup: Sofia Huerta started in midfield despite all of the noise about her having to move clubs in order to play at fullback, Taylor Comeau started at right back, and Claire Polkinghorne started at the base of midfield despite normally being a centerback.

The Thorns had the best early chance: Crnogorcevic intercepted the ball in midfield and her pass found its way to Tobin Heath behind the Dash defense, but Heath waited a little too long to shoot and was tackled off the ball before she could release.

Heath opened the scoring in the eighth minute. Christine Sinclair played a quick one-two in midfield with Ellie Carpenter and found herself running at the Dash defense. Sinclair played a ball up to the forward line, Crnogorcevic dummied the ball to allow Tobin Heath through, and Heath made no mistake, passing the ball into the net with the outside of her boot at Jane Campbell’s near post.

Both teams played well in possession and a little jittery when defending in the opening stages. The Thorns won the ball in midfield well but their defensive communication looked a little rusty. Franch came up with some good saves but also passed a little waywardly in her first game back since April.

Sofia Huerta hit back just a few minutes later, with miscommunication at the back at fault. Kyah Simon put in a low cross under the diving Klingenberg. Sonnett, close to the goal, made the decision to pass back to Franch who cleared the ball under pressure to Sofia Huerta who was able to tap in her first goal for the Dash only twelve minutes into her debut. Franch came up with an important save not long after from a Houston corner to keep the scores level.

The Thorns regained the lead right after the first hydration break in the 33rd minute. Sinclair received the ball in midfield and played Klingenberg down the line who sent in a low cross for Crnogorcevic. Crnogorcevic’s first effort was saved by Jane Campbell but she was able to get her head on the rebound, which trickled over the line, passing two Houston defenders on the way.

Houston came out swinging in the second half, pinning the Thorns back in their own half for a few minutes and forcing them to play on the counter. Franch was able to demonstrate her full range of skills back from injury, plucking out a few aerial balls and coming up with some big stops when Houston got in some dangerous positions. Nonetheless despite threatening, Houston could come up with precious few shots on goal, finishing the match with only two on goal from 17 shots overall.

Tobin Heath, who was crucial to the making the Thorns midfield connect, came off for Hayley Raso in the 55th minute, the two players making their way back from injury swapping places. The Thorns largely ceded the midfield in the second half after having 60% possession in the first, preferring to look for fast breaks instead.

Raso grew in influence though, and with she and Carpenter running down opposite wings, the Thorns had two energetic players with good crossing ability to chase after loose balls. At one point, both players exchanged crosses in the attacking third, but no forward was able to get a head on any to really challenge Jane Campbell.

Sinclair got free in the box via a long pass out of the back from Sonnett and found herself one on one with Campbell in the 71st minute, but elected to roll the ball across the face of goal for Tyler Lussi, who was just a little ahead of the play and couldn’t get anything on it. Sinclair had another shot on the turn from a low Raso cross that the Houston defense managed to block.

In the end, Sinclair found a way to put the game away in the 83rd minute. Janine van Wyk missed a header on a fairly aimless long ball over the top that fell to Tyler Lussi, who passed to Sinclair at the top of the box. Sinclair did a classic touch, turn and shoot that found the back of the net after Campbell found it too hot to handle. A fitting way to cap her 100th NWSL appearance.

Houston weren’t finished though, coming out attacking in the last ten minutes with the hope of pulling one back. Ohai sent in a few dangerous crosses, but Portland packed the box and Sonnett was able to make enough important headers away to keep Houston from doing anything dangerous. In the end the Thorns closed out the game comfortably enough, looking relieved to get back to winning ways.