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Recap: Thorns dominate Royals 3-0 in debut

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Sophia Smith also scored a goal in her first NWSL regular season game.

Soccer: NWSL Challenge Cup-Portland Thorns vs Houston Dash Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

It was a dominant win for the Portland Thorns on Sunday as they took down the Utah Royals 3-0. It was the exact start they were looking for to the NWSL Fall Series after having to wait so long to play their first game.

Both teams struggled to capitalize on opportunities early. The Thorns did a good job pushing the ball up the field but couldn’t get the shots on frame. They also were able to get some set-piece opportunities early on, but nothing was coming to fruition no matter how good the chance was.

After about the 20th minute, opportunities started to become more plentiful. Christine Sinclair had a pair of shots deflected in the goal, while Simone Charley wasn’t able to quite corral the long cross from Meghan Klingenberg, with her header going over the goal. Still, Portland was incrementally becoming more and more dangerous.

Even as the score remained gridlocked at 0-0, Portland was doing a lot of things well: They were dominating possession, they were accurate with their passes, and they had plenty of set pieces to work with. It was only a matter of time before they broke through — and that breakthrough came from Charley in the 35th minute.

The Thorns were doing an excellent job with their long passing in this game, and the goal was a direct result of that. Horan got the ball up to Charley, who just went to work on the Royals’ back line. The striker sliced and diced her way past Utah and launched the shot into the back of the net. It was 1-0 Thorns.

It wasn’t just on offense that Portland played well: The Thorns defense did an excellent job keeping opportunities scarce for Utah. The Royals only got four shots off in the first half, with only one of those on target. Utah also only had possession for about 38% of the first half, with Portland forcing plenty of turnovers. All of these things set Portland up to keep their 1-0 lead going into the half.

It was a little scary for Thorns fans to start the second half. Amy Rodriguez found her way into the box and almost immediately scored. Fortunately for Portland, you don’t put points on the board by almost scoring. The shot was wide left and Portland stayed in front, but Utah was firing to start the half.

Despite the early scare, the Thorns pretty much stuck to the same script in the second half. They continued to take advantage of the space given to them by Utah, who did not do a good job marking up. That paid dividends for Portland, who was finding opportunity after opportunity in the box.

An exciting moment happened in the 70th minute as Sophia Smith — the top overall pick in the NWSL draft — checked in for her first regular season game. And it did not take her long to show why she was picked that high, heading ball into the back of the net after another great cross from Klingenberg in 72nd minute. The excellent header made it 2-0 Thorns.

That goal blew the doors off in this one. Instead of backing off and just trying to keep their lead, the Thorns revved up their attack even more. The entry of Smith into the game opened up plenty on the offensive end for Portland, as the first round pick just kept making solid runs at the goal. And they had one more goal in them before this one ended.

The final goal came in the 81st minute, when Lindsey Horan deflected the Abby Smith’s goal clearance and the ball sailed right to the back of the goal. It was, in a sense, a good metaphor for the overall play of the Thorns today; they just suffocated the Royals and just attacked the goal, putting the ball in the back of the net seemingly at will. It was a solid 3-0 win for the Thorns.

The Thorns wont play again until September 30 when they face off against the OL Reign.