Portland vaulted into third place in the NWSL tonight with a decisive 4-0 win over the Utah Royals. The win, perhaps the Thorns’ best all-around performance all season, came at a cost, though, as Midge Purce was taken out of the match at halftime following a brutal studs-up foul by Diana Matheson that easily warranted a straight red.
With Meghan Klingenberg out on a suspension and Katherine Reynolds on an excused absence, the Thorns were again forced to make some hard choices to fill out the back line. In front of AD Franch, we saw Midge Purce, Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett, and Ellie Carpenter, from left to right. In the midfield, Celeste Boureille started alongside Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair; Tobin Heath and Hayley Raso were on the left and right wings, respectively, with Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic starting in the number nine slot.
The Thorns started the scoring off early when Tobin Heath chipped Abby Smith for the second time this season. She drove up the left into the box and tapped a pass underneath several defenders to Crnogorcevic, who was standing with her back to the Utah defense. Crnogorcevic laid the ball back to Heath as she continued her run, and Heath sent a looping ball over Smith’s head and into the back of the net.
Utah got their first real chance in the 10th minute when Lindsey Horan couldn’t quite get the best of a challenge against Christen Press and the ball fell to Diana Matheson. The Canadian made a run around the left of Emily Sonnett and found a shot, but it posed no problems for Franch.
Although the Royals had the better of a number of battles in the middle of the park over the next ten or 15 minutes, Portland’s back line played with composure and was able to mop up anything that slipped through the cracks of the Boureille-Horan defensive midfield.
Heath tried for a second in the 25th minute. With no one pressuring her as she hovered a few yards outside the 18, she took a bending shot that went just wide of goal. A few minutes later, Raso made her own effort from around the same spot, dribbling across Utah’s defensive line and finding a window to turn and shoot—but she couldn’t quite get her hips square in time and the ball sailed wide of the right post.
In the 30th minute, Utah’s Samantha Johnson earned a yellow for a challenge on Midge Purce near the left touchline, level with the 18-yard line. Lindsey Horan made good on the resulting Tobin Heath free kick, beating Amy Rodriguez in the air to head the well-placed ball into the net.
Just three minutes later, Crnogorcevic scored her third on the season when Lindsey Horan tried a through pass that Becky Sauerbrunn got a foot on. The deflection found Crnogorcevic as she made a diagonal run through the Royals defense, and she easily slotted her shot home—undoubtedly a good confidence-builder for a player who’s often struggled with her final touch this season.
By halftime, the momentum had swung decidedly in the Thorns’ direction; they were able to move the ball well up both wings and were winning almost every challenge. When the Royals worked the ball into their attacking third, meanwhile, their final ball always seemed to be a step off.
Then a seemingly serious injury to Midge Purce in the 44th minute put a damper on the game. Diana Matheson went in studs up and slid into Purce’s angle, bending it at a severe angle (you can see a gif of the challenge here, but be warned the clip is fairly gruesome). The tackle should have been a straight red but only resulted in a yellow for Matheson. Purce hobbled to the sideline with the help of the trainer, and the Thorns played a player down for the rest of the half before Purce was carried off the field on a stretcher.
To start the second half, Mallory Weber came on for Purce, with Crnogorcevic moving to left back.
Franch had to make her first real save of the game in the 57th minute, a nice diving effort to grab a long-range shot by Katrina Gorry in midair.
Portland made their second sub of the night in the 62nd minute, bringing on Tyler Lussi for Tobin Heath. Mere moments later, the forward scored with her first in the game, making a diagonal run to get on the end of a nice through ball by Lindsey Horan. With Smith off her line, Lussi had an open shot on goal and easily found the back of the net.
Utah saw a lot of the ball throughout the rest of the match, but struggled to put much in the way of a convincing attack together. Christen Press had a couple chances, one she skied over the bar from point-blank range (sound familiar?) and one on a breakaway that Menges was able to catch up with and clean up. Carpenter did an admirable job holding Press off whenever Utah’s new signing tried to dribble or cross from the Royals’ left.
Portland made their final sub of the night in the 85th minute, bringing on Elizabeth Ball for Raso. After two minutes of added time, the whistle blew, making the most decisive win by any team this NWSL season official.