An improbable game saw the Utah Royals get their first ever win against the Portland Thorns on the back of a Becky Sauerbrunn header and some astonishing saves from Royals goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.
The Thorns took 21 shots in the game, an incredible 16 of which were in the box, yet despite their best efforts seemed to be unable to put any one of their numerous efforts into the back of the net. The 11 corners they had this game set a new club record, and yet none of them could be cashed in.
Portland’s lineup was unchanged from their last game a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Royals slotted in Katie Stengel for Gunnhildur Jonsdottir in the attacking midfield position.
This being the first game back after an extended international break, the game started out a bit choppy as the two teams struggled to find their rhythm. With both teams looking to move quickly in attack and not executing very well, it made for a pretty discontinuous first 15 minutes.
Both teams grew into the game, though, eventually putting together some more coherent play and looking more dangerous. The Royals had the best early opportunity in the 20th minute, with Christen Press stealing the ball off of Ellie Carpenter as she attempted to carry the ball out of the back, rushing past Dagny Brynjarsdottir and sending in a cross for Amy Rodriguez whose first time shot drifted just left of Adrianna Franch’s goal.
That big chance seemed to wake the Thorns up, and they would go on to pile on the shots for the next 10 minutes. Just a few minutes later, the Thorns would have two excellent goalscoring opportunities in a row. Horan lined up a curling shot from the top of the box that Nicole Barnhart had to stretch out to palm away, and shortly after Raso streaked past Mallory Weber to find Midge Purce three feet in front of goal only for her feet to get caught up underneath her. Brynjarsdottir hit the crossbar off a header from a corner in the 27th minute, and Purce just couldn’t quite stretch to tap in a cross that flashed across the face of goal. Sinclair flicked a near post header from a corner in the 40th minute, forcing a snap save from Nicole Barnhart, and despite the ball falling to Raso, she couldn’t quite put a shot together.
Despite all that Thorns action, Utah was dangerous on the counter, with Christen Press getting good traction matched up against Ellie Carpenter and generating decent chances. The Royals would use one of those chances to go ahead against the run of play: Becky Sauerbrunn put in a header in the 35th minute off a recycled ball from a corner sent in by Christen Press that curled into the bottom far corner of Franch’s goal. Utah would go up at halftime despite only taking four shots in 45 minutes.
The second followed mostly the same script, with the Royals picking their spots to attack and trying to take the life out of the game and the Thorns dominating the ball. Horan had what would be the best opportunity for Portland in the 55th minute after a recycled ball from a corner saw four Thorns beat the offside trap, but Barnhart somehow managed to get the stop on head header.
Caitlin Foord came on in the 66th minute for Midge Purce, and Katherine Reynolds replaced Carpenter in the 75th.
Sonnett received a second yellow in the 77th after pulling down Amy Rodriguez on the break, leaving the Thorns chasing a goal with one down. Tensions threatened to boil over after Rodriguez got up in Sonnett’s face after the foul, clearly unhappy at being denied a chance to score, and Horan earned a yellow after pushing Rodriguez off the ball just a few minutes later.
Down a player, the Thorns went three at the back and simply tried to hold on. Despite a late push, they couldn’t go on to create good chances from that position and had to accept their first loss in a month.