Portland Thorns FC won their opening match of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup against Kansas City NWSL 2-1 on Friday. The match was full of controversy, which overshadowed a lot of positive developments shown by both teams.
One of the most dangerous players on the pitch this past Friday was Marissa Everett. She did not score or assist in the match and only had 26 touches (only Morgan Weaver and Angela Salem had fewer). But that did not keep Everett from being one of the most impactful players on the day.
Everett started as the point of the midfield diamond in a kind of No. 10 or withdrawn striker role. She was positioned behind forwards Simone Charley and Tyler Lussi. This position is typically occupied by Christine Sinclair, who was away on international duty which afforded Everett the starting role in which she thrived.
“Yeah, I mean, our team is amazing,” said Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg. “We have some of the best players in the world and I mean, Sincy (Christine Sinclair) is arguably ... goat, you know. So unfortunately, you don’t get to see the quality of all of our players, but we have incredible quality. Whether it’s on the field, or it’s on the bench. And I’m really excited that you all got to see the quality of Marissa Everett today, because I’ve watched her these past couple years put in the work, and she’s so smart about getting in the spaces and getting in a place where she can hurt the opposition.
“I don’t think many other players, especially at her age, are able to do the things that Marissa does,” Klingenberg continued. “And then once she gets into those spaces, she’s quality. And that’s what we needed tonight. And I didn’t expect anything else from her.”
Creating space with intelligent runs
Everett’s ability to find space and to make intelligent runs were key to moving the Thorns forward in transition and escaping Kansas City’s press. Her ability to cause problems for the opposition was immediately evident.
Less than two minutes into the match, Charley was released into space. Charley dribbled at two players when Everett started her run through the central channel. She made a kind of elongated ‘S’ run which dragged her defender inside toward Charley. As the defender tracking Everett got closer to Charley, Everett drifted into the defender’s blind spot off the back shoulder.
Everett’s run drew defenders together and opened up space in the middle of the 18-yard box, where she stood unmarked. Charley couldn’t find Everett but it was an early example of how Everett could have success and manipulate the Kansas City defense.
Everett continued to cause Kansas City issues with her runs. In the fourth minute, Klingenberg received the ball on the left side of Portland’s midfield. Klingenberg drove toward goal. Everett began jogging, keeping pace with the left-back-turned-midfielder.
The two players were separated by Kansas City’s Gaby Vincent. As soon as Vincent stepped to stop the ball, Everett sprinted into space at the top of the 18-yard box. Klingenberg found Everett and the University of Oregon alumna launched a shot wide.
Marissa Everett with an early chance pic.twitter.com/owBv5r5Y32— CBS Sports Soccer (@CBSSportsSoccer) April 10, 2021
Klingenberg and Everett linked up again in what was one of the Thorns’ best moves of the match. Kansas City attempted to clear their lines but instead hit the ball into Everett’s face. The Thorns regained possession and Lussi played the ball to Klingenberg. When Lussi lofted the ball to Klingenberg, Everett made a slashing run through the central channel. Klingenberg floated the ball to Everett, who was under pressure and finished expertly. Unfortunately, the goal was waved off for offside.
“Marissa in the kind of attacking midfield position — I thought she gave us a great attacking threat in terms of receiving on the turn and threading some passes,” said assistant coach Richard Gunney. “And she scored a great goal that was offside, which was really close. That was a phenomenal effort. And she performed some skills and tricks and added some quality and creativity to that attacking play. So I thought she performed well.”
Defense-splitting passes and receiving on the turn
Everett also displayed her ability to spot and play the final pass and her ability to help the Thorns play through pressure. In the 45th minute, Klingenberg found Everett in space. Everett dribbled at the backline and played a pass that originally looked like it was meant for Charley, who was offside. The pass split the two center backs and Celeste Boureille got on the end of it in a dangerous position near the end-line.
She did this again at the start of the second half, but this time the pass was meant for Charley. Everett turned away from pressure and without hesitating played Charley in on goal. Kansas City goalkeeper Abby Smith read the play well and cut the pass out bravely.
Throughout the match Everett was able to escape pressure and create danger on the turn due to her close control and her body positioning. Nothing demonstrated this quite like her involvement in the 39th minute.
Christen Westphal threw the ball in to Boureille. Boureille played it back to Westphal, who chipped it toward Everett. Everett quickly got in front of the nearest Kansas City player, boxed her out, and used her thigh to settle it under pressure and left it for Lussi.
Lussi lost the ball but Everett recovered it and dribbled toward the touch line. Vincent and Kristen Edmonds tried to pin Everett on the touch line but Everett’s feet were too quick. She moved the ball rapidly between her feet and played the ball through Edmond’s legs to the on-rushing Lussi.
Everett did really well under pressure and with her back to goal which allowed the Thorns players time to open up and join the attack. One great piece of hold-up play resulted in the foul that then led to Raquel Rodriguez’s opening goal.
Marissa Everett was extremely creative and efficient with her 26 touches and 15 passes. She caused the Kansas City defense headaches from the start of the match until she was replaced in the 67th minute.
Everett proved that she can be the player who takes over a match and who can provide the moment of brilliance that settles tightly contested matches and she will be even more important in the next match.
The Thorns will be without a lot of their attacking fire power due to international call-ups (Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Sinclair and Sophia Smith) and red cards (Charley and Morgan Weaver), but Everett showed that she can step up and make a difference against Kansas City and she will be integral if Portland are to get a result away at the Chicago Red Stars.