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Portland’s defense holds strong in Providence Park

Mallory Weber makes her return to Providence Park as the Thorns earn a 0-0 draw against the Utah Royals, despite moments of brilliance by Midge Purce

Kris Lattimore

The Thorns held off the Utah Royals FC to earn a 0-0 draw at Providence Park. While both sides generated a number of good looks, solid goalkeeping and strong defensive performances kept the score level and left Portland with their second tie in as many weeks. “The big positive is the defensive performance,” said coach Mark Parsons. “I thought we were extremely solid in most areas and especially the backline.”

The Thorns lined up with five in the back: Elizabeth Ball, Katherine Reynolds, and Gabby Seiler comprised the centerback trio, and Meghan Klingenberg and Kelli Hubly pushed forward as wingbacks. The three central defenders allowed for Reynolds to stay on Amy Rodriguez — Utah’s greatest scoring threat as of late — and for Seiler to make use of her stellar positional awareness as an Emily Menges-esque sweeper. “I think our backline works really well together,” Seiler said. “We have each other’s backs on the field and we’re always covering for each other.”

In front of them sat Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Celeste Boureille. In arguably her best performance of the season, Brynjarsdottir did well to hold down the center of the park and provide a number of defensive interceptions for Portland, as well as finding a couple decent chances in front of goal.

The Thorns had their first good look in the eighth minute, when Midge Purce cut towards the center on the dribble and got off a dangerous near post shot, calling Nicole Barnhart to make the save. Simone Charley was able to get on the end of the resulting corner, but her header was settled by the Royals defense.

Although the Royals weren’t without their attacking chances early on, many of them were long balls into the box to a target of Rodriguez or Gunny Jonsdottir, crosses that were easily cleared by Reynolds, Seiler, and Brynjarsdottir.

In the 29th minute, Boureille was given a yellow for a foul on Mallory Weber just outside the box. Lo’eau LaBonta and Erika Tymrak stood over the free kick, and it looked like it could be a dangerous set piece for the Royals. Unfortunately for Utah, LaBonta’s ball was sent high and wide of the far post.

The Thorns had a number of chances in the 34th minute when Klingenberg tried to find Purce in Utah’s box. Brynjarsdottir was able to get on the end of the ball, but her shot was blocked and fell to Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic who hit the ball well off-target. Another fantastic look came in the 43rd minute: Purce picked a ball off Gaby Vincent and dribbled into the box, creating a decent look at net for herself. Sam Johnson was able to get on the end of her shot and deflect it out for a Portland corner.

The first half — and most of the second — was a decent amount of the same: Klingenberg finding dangerous crosses and corners and Purce able to peel off her defenders and find space to dribble Portland’s attack, generating a number of shots that went just wide. As per usual, Charley had moments success dribbling at Utah’s defenders, even finding herself with a couple of looks in front of goal that she was unable to finish.

“Midge was exceptional in all areas we asked of her,” Parsons said when questioned about Purce’s performance in his post-game interview. “She ticked a lot of team boxes tonight, but she also brought her personality and her quality... I thought she was our most dangerous player in the final third.”

The Thorns did well to mark Rodriguez in the Royals attacking third; most of their offense came through long balls by LaBonta or Weber pushing up the right flank. Weber looked sharp and hungry with the ball at her feet, taking on defenders and finding herself in open space for a couple good looks around the 75th minute. Katie Stengel subbed in for the Royals in the 70th minute, coming in for Mandy Laddish. She provided a spark for Utah’s attack, taking on defenders and looking to find balls to Rodriguez.

The Royals had a decent look in the 86th minute; Portland’s defense was caught as Becca Moros drove up the left side, finding substitute Makenzy Doniak. Doniak sent a ball into Stengel, who dropped it back to Rodriguez in front of goal. Boureille was caught slightly flat footed and Rodriguez was able to get a shot off. Britt Eckerstrom positioned herself well to get on the end of the play and keep the score even. Just seconds later, Marissa Everett found her own chance on the other end of the field, but her strike from just outside the box was safely collected by Barnhart.

The scoreline stayed level for the remainder of the match, a frustrating result for a Thorns side who were missing that finishing touch despite an overall solid performance. “We’re going use this as fuel,” Parsons stated. “We’ve got to find the most important things that have to be better and provide that support this week before we head out to Houston.”