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Thorns end the season on a damp note, draw Spirit 0-0

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The Thorns secure third place anyway thanks to some help from Orlando, who drew 2-2 with the Reign earlier in the night.

Bennett Dewan

The Portland Thorns are going to Chicago for the playoffs, but they’ll be wishing they gave their fans a better send off after failing to score in an at times slow and drawn out 0-0 draw with the Washington Spirit. The Reign drew the early game of the evening against the Orlando Pride, securing third place for the Thorns before the game kicked off.

A slow paced, midfield chess match of a game gave way to some higher intensity as the Thorns pushed for a winner but ultimately they couldn’t find the back of the net, making it only one goal from their last six games.

In light of the approaching post-season, Portland drew up some major changes, resting all their forwards and putting in midfielders in their place. Emily Ogle got her first professional start in midfield after two previous appearances off the bench, and Andressinha got her first start since the World Cup season. Elizabeth Ball joined them at right wingback. Lindsey Horan was able to recover from the injury she sustained at the end of the Reign game to start.

All of this contributed to a somewhat strange atmosphere for the last home game of the season: with the table set and with much of the forward attacking impetus either unavailable or on the bench, the Thorns spent much of the game trying to build rhythm in midfield and hoping for the perfect chance rather than playing the run and gun style that has characterized their play for most of the year. The Spirit, a team who hae

The Thorns stepped out in a back three with Tobin Heath and Christine Sinclair as the most advanced players, with Andressinha lurking underneath in her preferred attacking midfield role.

The Spirit came out of the gates energetically, getting the first shot of the night away after a sequence of strong pressure but once the Thorns settled into their new positions they began to look extremely comfortable. Washington Spirit have been playing out of the back all season and are one of the best teams in the league on the ball, but the Thorns pressure kept them uncomfortable and unable to make much forward progress.

Pressure on the backline almost resulted in an opening goal for the Thorns: Sinclair chased down Sam Staab looking to shepherd out a long ball which caught an awkward bounce that nearly let Sinclair in with an open net but she couldn’t quite reach it and screwed it wide instead.

Most of the first half took place in the center of the field: with Heath dropping off the front line to help in midfield Sinclair was the only one stretching the backline for the Thorns, so they focused on buildup play instead, which kept most of the play in front of the Spirit backline. It took a corner to start some action: in the 38th minute, Meghan Klingenberg sent in a second service from a corner that saw both Emily Sonnett and Christine Sinclair break the offside trap, only to be met by an onrushing Aubrey Bledsoe who was forced into a second save right after from a Horan followup.

The Thorns found some extra energy on the front line after that, with Heath and Klingenberg getting to the byline and sending a few more crosses in, but with often only Andressinha up top to challenge for them in the air, they didn’t result in any more chances.

Mallory Pugh came off just before halftime after twisting something off ball and wouldn’t return, with Chloe Logarzo coming on for her after halftime.

When the Thorns tightened up the screws after the break and started pushing up more aggressively, it immediately put the Spirit on their heels, and Portland would go on to more or less park themselves in their opponent’s half looking for a solution.

Andressinha very nearly put the Thorns ahead in the 48th minute after getting a cross right in front of goal from Christine Sinclair but had her shot and her followup blocked. Not long after Heath and Sinclair combined to produce an arcing shot from Heath that was deflected wide.

Dagny Brynjarsdottir came on for Emily Ogle in the 65th: with Ogle fading a bit after a bright start the team needed her energy in midfield. Midge Purce entered in the 75th minute for Elizabeth Ball, shifting the Thorns to a back four as they pushed for a winner. Caitlin Foord replaced Lindsey Horan soon after.

Conscious of the need to close the season on a high note, the Thorns pushed hard for a goal as the game wound down. Tobin Heath teed up a shot from outside the box destined for the top corner in the 84th minute until Aubrey Bledsoe rose up at full extension to dig it out.

Just after Klingenberg sent Purce through on goal with only Bledsoe to beat: until Dorian Bailey tripped over her own legs when tracking Purce from behind and bowled her over in the box. While clearly an accidental fall, players and fans alike were unhappy with being denied a shot. No call would come.

Heath set up Purce on the very next play after driving into the box but from a wide position Purce could only fire over from close range as the Thorns continued their poor scoring record into the playoffs.