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Something’s in the air: Thorns beat Sky Blue 2-1

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Bennett Dewan

In what can only be described as kind of a weird game, Portland went up by two goals and hung on to win 2-1 after conceding late in the second half tonight against winless Sky Blue. With the win, Portland clinches a playoff slot, and is still theoretically in contention for the second-place slot and a home playoff berth, although a lot would have to go right for that to happen.

Played in poor air quality, with visible wildfire smoke filling the stadium and hanging over the skyline, this game featured two hydration breaks in each half, like a handful of other NWSL games in western cities have been this August. There is probably no legitimate health-related reason to keep doing this, but the league doubtless feels they have to do something to demonstrate concern for player safety.

The Thorns made one key change to what’s been their usual starting lineup over the last few weeks, with Caitlin Foord getting her first start over Ana Crnogorcevic in the nine. In front of AD Franch in goal, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett, and Ellie Carpenter started in the back, with Celeste Boureille in the six and Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan ahead of her. Tobin Heath and Hayley Raso started on the wings.

Portland started pushing early, with Christine Sinclair playing through to Hayley Raso in the second minute. Raso got on the end of the ball near the six-yard line, but sent her close-range shot wide.

The Thorns went up 1-0 on a penalty kick in the 12th minute. Lindsey Horan drew a penalty when Erica Skroski fouled her just inside the 18-yard box. Christine Sinclair stepped up to take the kick against fellow Canadian international Kailen Sheridan; the keeper was caught flat-footed, and Sinclair sent her low kick inside the left post.

Franch made an important save in the 21st minute when Kling slipped near the left sideline, allowing Christina Gibbons to run into space behind and get on the end of a well-weighted through ball. Boureille sprinted back to cover, but Gibbons got a cross past her and in to Savannah McCaskill at the edge of the six-yard box. Franch easily handled McCaskill’s header.

Raso came close to a second in the 35th minute, getting on the end of a ball from Sinclair around the right side of a compacted Sky Blue back line. She drove endline and sent in a low shot/cross at a severe angle that went just barely wide of Sheridan and out for a goal kick.

Notably, Caitlin Foord attempted a bicycle kick at the edge of the six-yard box in the 41st minute off a cross from Raso. It was unsuccessful—but after a weird scramble in the area finally ended with the ball at Raso’s feet, the Australian was fouled by Madison Tiernan (who earned a yellow for persistent infringement), and a penalty kick was awarded from 25 yards out. Sonnett got her head on Heath’s service, and was punched square in the face by Sheridan. Fortunately, she passed concussion protocol and returned to the game a few minutes later.

Due to the hydration breaks, a whopping seven minutes was added to the end of the half; in stoppage time, Portland had another high-quality chance, when Tobin Heath sent a ball into the box that resulted in a goalmouth scramble. Raso got a good crack at Sheridan during this sequence, but Sky Blue was lucky and nothing got past the keeper.

Portland widened the lead to two-nil in the 54th minute. Tiernan fouled Raso again—briefly resulting in a verbal scuffle between the two players—conceding another free kick from a few yards outside the right edge of the area. Heath took the kick and had Horan and Foord crashing the net, but neither quite got there, and Sheridan, watching Horan, was thrown off enough to let the curling service land directly into the goal.

In the 59th minute, Ana Crnogorcevic came on for Foord. McCaskill picked up a yellow of her own in the 67th minute, for pushing Heath over with her shoulder as the Portland player cut inside and drove in toward the back line.

In the 75th minute, the Thorns brought on Midge Purce for Raso, after the Australian went down clutching her knee on what appeared to be a non-contact injury. Immediately afterwards, Sky Blue banged a shot off the bottom of the crossbar on a corner; it ricocheted down into the six-yard box, where the Thorns defense eventually cleared it.

Sky Blue got one back in the 85th minute. After Raquel Rodriguez lofted a ball into the area, Carpenter lost an aerial duel against Imani Dorsey, and the ball fell to Sarah Killion, who crashed the box and one-timed a shot inside the far post. The visitors had no serious chances after that one, with Portland hanging on through the rest of regulation and eight minutes of stoppage time for the win.

Whether it had anything to do with the smoke or the schedule, or if the Thorns were just off tonight, multiple Thorns players had weird games tonight, especially in the first half. Horan made repeated mistakes, passing to Sky Blue players a number of times. Several players slipped and fell at inopportune moments. Foord slipped a little from her form in recent games.

Still, a win is a win—and this was a hungry Sky Blue team that’s been looking much better than their record this season would suggest. The Thorns did look dangerous in the first half even despite the weirdness.

Finally, Christine Sinclair’s goal in this game is her 40th career NWSL goal, scored in her 50th consecutive regular-season start.