The Portland Thorns closed out their six-game road trip on a high note, beating Sky Blue FC 1-0 with a team packed full of debutants and bench players, as the Thorns put together a strong performance and the result to go with it in their first game of the season missing their full complement of internationals. The Thorns managed to press high up the field coherently and stifle the Sky Blue offense, holding them to a single shot on target for the whole 90 minutes.
Coach Mark Parsons rang the changes after a disappointing showing in last week’s 3-1 loss to the Washington Spirit, bringing in Angela Salem for Celeste Boureille and moving Gabby Seiler into midfield. The team overall shifted back into the modified 4-2-3-1 that they played at times last season, with Elizabeth Ball getting her first start of the season as the more conservative fullback tucking in centrally from the right and Meghan Klingenberg pushing further forward on the left.
Simone Charley, a trainee player during all of 2018, got the nod at striker for her first ever minutes in the NWSL and the club after signing to the supplemental roster earlier in the month. Tyler Lussi and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic were preferred for their work rate on the wings.
Defensively, the Thorns looked excellent to start the game. The few times that Sky Blue were able to make progress up the field, the attacks were quickly snuffed out by Ball and Menges. Savanna McCaskill was only able to turn to face goal with the ball once and when she did she found Katherine Reynolds right in her face. Most impressive was the team’s ability to force Sky Blue turnovers high up the field: Lussi, Crnogorcevic and Brynjarsdottir were very quick to close down passing options from the back and pick up interceptions.
Going forward, Klingenberg, who had an iffy game last week, was a major force in a relatively free role at wingback, creating offense with through balls and crosses. The Thorns forced six corners in the first 30 minutes and Klingenberg’s delivery was dangerous but handled well by Sky Blue. Klingenberg had the Thorns’ best opportunity in the first half: she was able to pick up a poor clearance from DiDi Haricic in the 33rd minutes but her subsequent shot from 35 yards away wasn’t fast enough to catch her unguarded.
Sky Blue managed to build up some pressure on the break just before halftime: Imani Dorsey caught Elizabeth Ball flat footed on the wing once and was able to get a shot away that caught her own teammate offside, and subsequently managed to get a few more runs down the wings after having largely been pinned back throughout the game.
Sky Blue wouldn’t be held down in their own half for much longer, however, coming out of halftime energized and better on the ball. In the McCaskill, so good at knowing where open space is, managed to drift into space left by Ball pushing up to close down Imani Dorsey on the ball and get into a dangerous position, but again was closed down and faced up by Reynolds.
Simone Charley was a major factor in keeping the Thorns offense moving, holding up play with her excellent dribbling ability, even getting in two nutmegs against her defenders. Charley looked a little shy in front of goal but managed to get a header off the post in the 57th minute. Elizabeth Ball drove forward with an excellent run, splitting two defenders and delivering a great cross to the back post that Charley just missed out on redirecting into the net.
Midge Purce came on for Tyler Lussi in the 60th minute after missing out on the starting lineup due to hip trouble and was able to help the Thorns get back on top again. She would go on to get the opener in the 69th minute: Ball sent in a deep free kick that Charley was able to take down and control. Charley’s shot was deflected right into the path of Midge Purce, who was able to settle the ball and slot it past Haricic for her first goal of the season.
Ball was called into defensive action just seconds later as Sky Blue pushed for an equalizer, making a last second clearance after Eckerstrom was caught out of her net coming out to make a save.
Madison Pogarch subbed on for Angela Salem in the 73rd minute for her club debut to shift the Thorns back to a more strict back three, with Purce as the right wingback. Simone Charley, visibly tired after 79 minutes of competitive action, came off for brand new National Team Replacement signing Marissa Everett. Everett nearly scored in her first minute of action for the club after Pogarch chased down a pass on the wing and sent in an excellent cross to the near post, but Haracic turned Everett’s shot away.
Sky Blue brought a good amount of pressure late but the Thorns defense held up, getting in critical blocks and clearances, largely preventing them from getting shots away. McCaskill got the best look with a header on target from a corner late but hit it too softly and Eckerstrom was able to hold easily.
Purce almost got her second goal off a counter attack but couldn’t quite finish, and the Thorns were content with running down the clock on an important road win.