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Royals muscle a point off of the Thorns late to draw 2-2

The USWNT players returned to their teams and put on a feisty display as the Thorns and the Royals drew their second matchup of the season.

Cindy Lara - RSL Soapbox

The Portland Thorns and Utah Royals split the points in a game defined by both brilliant skill and extremely physical play from their stars. The Royals’ full complement of US internationals returned to their starting lineup, while Adrianna Franch and Lindsey Horan returned for the Thorns, with Tobin Heath and Emily Sonnett on the bench.

The Thorns could have had two chances to score within the first five minutes: Hayley Raso and Midge Purce combined to pick the ball off of Rachel Corsie in the third minute before tripping over each other, and not long after Ellie Carpenter fired the ball off Becky Sauerbrunn’s arm which the referee adjudged to be in a natural position by her side.

Christine Sinclair needed no such luck to open the scoring nine minutes in, putting the Thorns in front with a brilliant bit of skill from range. Klingenberg sent in a cross from deep that Kelley O’Hara got a poor header to, sending it directly to Sinclair at the top of the box. With Lo’eau LaBonta closing her down, she managed to chest the ball down and catch it sweetly on the volley, finding the top corner of Nicole Barnhart’s goal. Prior to last week’s game against Orlando, the Thorns had yet to score in the first 20 minutes of any game this season: Sinclair’s opener made it two games from two there the team has scored in the first ten.

Amy Rodriguez nearly picked off a stray backpass from Franch in a place that probably would have drawn Utah level. Franch, playing her first game since leaving for the World Cup, looked a little rusty in the opening stages and found Katherine Reynolds’ backpass a little too hot to handle, but luckily Rodriguez’ touch sent the ball out for a goal kick. When called upon to make a save however, Franch looked ready to play: in the 35th minute, Christen Press evaded Elizabeth Ball and played in Rodriguez who had gained a step on Emily Menges to get a shot away, but Franch was able to save and hold.

Christen Press pulled Utah back level in the 43rd minute. Utah sent a long crossfield pass up to Press who isolated on Ball. Ball had made a desperation interception to prevent the same play just minutes earlier, but this time the ball went over the top of her for Press to run onto. Press nutmegged ball on the sideline and put the ball past Franch at her near post from a tight angle.

Press very nearly created another goal just after halftime: her hooked volley pass sent Amy Rodriguez streaking in on goal but her shot to the near post didn’t have the speed to beat Franch, who was able to recover after parrying.

Utah, on the back foot for most of the first half, recovered to hold the ball better in the opening stages of the second. They would nearly go ahead in the 59th minute. Katie Stengel, substituted on early for an injured Mandy Laddish, received the ball in front of goal and turned to get a snapshot away. Franch was equal to the task with a sharp save down to her right.

The Thorns would continue to look dangerous on the break. Carpenter, leading one in the 55th minute, was taken out from behind by Kelly O’Hara in the box, whose studs-up tackle through the back of her ankle sent her to the floor to be tended to by the medical staff. No foul was called, and Carpenter would have to come off the field 6 minutes later after attempting to play through it, coming off for Caitlin Foord as the Thorns went to a back four.

Sonnett would come on the field for Ball not long after, seeing her first minutes of soccer since the group stages of the World Cup. Vero Boquete came on not long after for LaBonta, and Tobin Heath replaced Midge Purce. Boquete nearly put the Royals ahead with a dinked ball over the top for Press that didn’t quite find its way through, but other than that the Thorns were able to keep Utah mostly in front of them.

Despite the Royals pressure through the second half Horan was able to put the Thorns back ahead in the 87th minute. Off a Klingenberg free kick which the Royals defense failed to clear, Horan dropped a low shot into the back of the net while being taken out by Rachel Corsie, which sent her to the ground for a few minutes. Corsie’s foot went directly through Horan’s shin on the play, and yet again the Royals went unpunished.

Utah would draw level only a few minutes later. Corsie, right down the other end, managed to put a shot through Franch’s legs on a recycled ball from O’Hara to tie the game at two.

The Royals pushed hard for all three points late on but Franch wouldn’t be beaten again. Franch took an Amy Rodriguez shot straight to the face in the 92nd minute and Katie Stengel shot from close range into Franch’s fist only one minute after. Neither team would get a good chance to score again.