The Portland Thorns couldn’t reclaim first place in the NWSL table as they drew 1-1 with Sky Blue FC on a testy occasion defined by physical play, some big penalty calls and big penalty no-calls.
With their USWNT players in the Rose Bowl playing on the Victory Tour, Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Britt Eckerstrom returned to the starting lineups in their usual spots. Katherine Reynolds returned from injury to start in central defense, and Elizabeth Ball kept her spot at right back. Caitlin Foord slotted into Tobin Heath’s place on the left wing as the Thorns retained their 4-3-3 formation.
Sky Blue started the match possessing the ball relatively well. Lining up in a 4-1-4-1, both of their attacking midfielders in Elizabeth Eddy and Sarah Killion had license to push forward as their wingers dropped in to cover them. They generated a few good opportunities in the first 15 as Portland looked a little caught by surprise. Killion hit a one time pass with the outside of her boot over the Thorns defense for an onrushing Eddy, but her shot hit the crossbar, and in any case she was ruled offside.
Portland had the better chances and created better opportunities, though, and Sky Blue would finish the half with no shots on target. Midge Purce nearly scored in the first minute off a cross from Megan Klingenberg but her header drifted just wide of the far post. Purce hit the outside of the post in the 7th minute after a quick restart saw Foord send in a perfectly weighted early cross behind Sky Blue’s defense. Purce forced Kailen Sheridan to come out to challenge and rounded her but was forced into a tight angle and couldn’t quite squeeze her shot through. Klingenberg sent in a free kick in the 23rd minute that evaded the entire Sky Blue defense and nearly found Christine Sinclair at the back stick, but was just slightly too long.
A couple of quick interactions between Gina Lewandowski and Purce around the 30th minute left both Purce and the crowd feeling aggrieved. First, Elizabeth Ball sent in a deep cross that Sheridan came out to collect easily, but in the buildup Purce snuck ahead of Lewandowski and the Purce went down, with no call. Only a few minutes later Purce sealed off Lewandowski in the box again and their legs came together. Lewandowski appeared to push off against Purce, and Purce reacted as though there was a push as well. This sent the crowd off, and booing rained down onto the field from the 19,070 strong crowd.
After much protestation from the players, Thorns coach Mark Parsons (who earned himself a warning) and a raucous crowd, referee Mark Allatin would make up for it. In the 37th minute, Ball sent in a weighted pass over the top for Hayley Raso, who collided a bit with Estelle Johnson as she was headed out of bounds. It involved significantly less contact than the previous two no-calls, but the referee pointed to the spot anyway.
No one in the crowd even realized a penalty had been awarded until Christine Sinclair stepped up to the spot with the ball in her hand. Sinclair put Sheridan the wrong way and coolly slotted it home for her second penalty in as many games.
The Thorns, as they have been known to do in past weeks, lifted their foot off the gas and let their opponents back in the game. Sky Blue didn’t generate very much at first but gradually grew their way into the game. Lewandowski nearly put Sky Blue on the board with a header from a free kick in the 68th minute, but headed against the post instead. Then just a few minutes later they would equalize with their first shot of the game. Sarah Killion sent Eddy running into the box with a quick restart from a free kick and Eddy’s low cross dribbled all the way through to the other side of the box without touching anyone on the way through. Imani Dorsey, running from deep, shot low through a crowd into the far corner of Britt Eckerstrom’s net to tie the game at one.
Andressinha came on for Elizabeth Ball in the 84th minute after Ball came down with cramp, pushing Gabby Seiler onto the backline as the Thorns went all attack. Not long after, Purce charged into the box on a counterattack. Imani Dorsey came in from behind to tackle, got the ball but got a significant chunk of Purce in the process, sending her to the floor. Again no call was forthcoming.
Simone Charley came on for a beat-up looking Purce in the 87th minute. Charley nearly scored her first NWSL goal in the 89th minute but for Kailen Sheridan’s heroics. Klingenberg crossed from the left after driving to the byline and Charley sent a perfect header down toward goal but Sheridan produced an incredible save, getting down to the floor quickly to palm the shot against the post and out.
Amandine Pierre-Louis managed to get herself a second yellow in stoppage time, getting sent off after only twenty minutes of play. The Thorns had a few more chances but couldn’t put them away.