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Portland Thorns take Chicago Red Stars for a 4-4 ride

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How to explain this one?

Nikita Taparia

The Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars split the points in a wild game in 20mph winds, featuring two penalties, defensive errors everywhere and a Christine Sinclair hat-trick.

A back and forth first half saw three goals in the span of four minutes putting Chicago ahead, only for Portland to come back to tie it. The Thorns then stormed ahead only for Chicago to completely pin them in their own half for the last 15 minutes of the game, get the tying goal and nearly win it.

Sinclair opened the scoring in the 16th minute off a very simple offensive set: Emily Sonnett sent the ball upfield and Horan was able to collect it, settle and scoop a pass over the Red Stars defense for Sinclair, who chipped it over the onrushing Alyssa Naeher. On the next attack, less that a minute later, Arin Wright got on the end of a long ball and drove into the box, closely marked by Ellie Carpenter, and fired it against her arm at close range with Carpenter turning away from the ball. Carpenter assumed it was a corner, as did most of the Thorns team, but referee Karen Abt immediately pointed to the spot. No replays were shown on the stream but video appears to show the ball coming off Carpenter’s elbow, with Abt’s viewing angle behind the play. In any case Yuki Nagasato made no mistake from the spot, tying the game at one apiece.

Portland began trying to settle the game after this, building play out of the back, but as in early 2018, they would get their fingers burnt. Lindsey Horan and Emily Sonnett were playing a short game on the backline but Sonnett wasn’t alive to Sam Kerr sneaking in behind her. Kerr pinched the ball and with one touch took herself past Sonnett and placed the ball past AD Franch in goal in the 20th minute, putting the Red Stars up 2-1.

It looked as though Chicago were going to go on to assert themselves through the rest of the half: when they got on the ball confidently, they were able to pass well, but Portland was a consistent threat down the flanks, especially the left. Casey Short played most of the game touch-tight to Tobin Heath, but Heath was able to hold up play effectively against her and wait for support. The Thorns’ third and fourth goals were scored this exact way: on the 33rd minute, Heath dropped a pass to Klingenberg who sent in a cross to an unmarked Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic who’s stooped header found the far corner, and in the 51st, Heath dropped off a short pass to Klingenberg who did it again, this time floating a cross to the far post for Sinclair, who had broken the offside trap, to tap in easily.

Gabby Seiler was able to record her first minutes for the club as a substitute for Meghan Klingenberg in the 67th minute. The Thorns looked on top—Heath beat Casey Short one-on-one for the only time in the game after Short whiffed at a long cross and fired right at Naeher, and immediately afterward Carpenter dropped a perfect cross into the path of Horan who just couldn’t get a shot away—but Chicago head coach Rory Dames had some cards up his sleeve that would go on to change the complexion of the match. Morgan Brian first came on for Alyssa Mautz, who calmed down the flow of the game for the Red Stars. Later, he made a double sub: Vanessa DiBernardo for Danielle Colaprico and crucially, Michele Vasconcelos for Casey Short, moving to three at the back and overloading the midfield.

The five in midfield for Chicago almost immediately began to dominate the ball and instantly produced a goal for Vasconcelos in the 77th minute after some tidy interplay. And yet, Chicago only leaving three defenders back would eventually punish them: in the 87th minute, Midge Purce (who had come on for Crnogorcevic in the 79th) got on the end of a long ball and despite being double teamed, managed to slip the first line and was brought down by Katie Naughton from behind in the box. Christine Sinclair stepped up and completed her hat trick.

With time winding down Chicago continued to press for an equalizer and they would get it through a moment of chaos. Sam Kerr and Katie Johnson worked the ball through the Thorns defense and Kerr’s initial shot was saved, but Yuki Nagasato was there for the put back to tie up one of the wilder games in recent NWSL memory.