Sophia Smith scored and won a penalty kick that Christine Sinclair converted in the Portland Thorns’ 2-1 victory over NJ/NY Gotham FC in Providence Park Wednesday night. The Thorns maintain their five point lead at the top of the NWSL league standings with the win.
Spirits were high in Providence Park as the Thorns' four Olympians, Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Christine Sinclair, were honored before the match. The three U.S. internationals were recognized for winning the bronze medal in Toyko. Christine Sinclair was honored for winning gold with Canada.
Sinclair and Sophia Smith lined up next to each other and Crystal Dunn was positioned just behind them as the number ten. Portland started the match well with consistent spells of possession. They found most of their success when they pinned Gotham in their own half and won the ball back in dangerous positions.
Rocky Rodriguez played an integral role in creating dangerous transition opportunities for the Thorns. She repeatedly won the ball in midfield and looked to spring the team forward. The Costa Rican won possession just outside of the box in the 17th minute. She swung a cross to the head of Dunn, who headed it into the hands of Kailen Sheridan.
In the 22nd minute, Rodriguez won the ball back again. Dunn got the ball and drove toward goal. Dunn lined up a shot but she curled it over the bar. Another transition moment yielded a Smith chance. She fired from the top of the 18-yard box but the ball took a deflection off Gotham defender Estelle Johnson and bounced wide of the post.
Smith continued to cause Gotham problems with her aggressive pressing. In the 29th minute, Johnson passed the ball backward to Erica Skroski. Smith started closing down Skroski as Johnson played the pass. She knocked Skroski off the ball and side-footed the ball past Sheridan to give the Thorns the lead.
Smith would haunt Gotham again before the end of the half. Her runs in behind the defense forced Gotham into some last-ditch defending. Sinclair dribbled at the back line in the 40th minute. Smith made a diagonal run behind the defense and Sinclair played the pass to her. Johnson went sliding in to win the ball but Smith intelligently put her body between the defender and the ball.
The referee whistled for a penalty kick and Sinclair stepped to the spot. Sheridan guessed the right way but the penalty was well struck and snuck under Sheridan’s outstretched hand, giving the Thorns a 2-0 lead.
Gotham switched to a four-player back line to start the second half. They found more success playing out of pressure and were able to get forward more consistently. In the 55th minute, Caprice Dydasco played an early cross and Carli Lloyd drifted to the back post to meet it. She was unable to steer her shot on target.
Substitute Morgan Weaver kickstarted a wave of intense pressure for the Thorns. She drove past midfield and into the final third. Weaver played it wide to Sinclair, who tried to return it to Weaver. They couldn’t connect and it was played back into the box. Sinclair hit a low shot toward the corner of the goal but Sheridan made a diving save and Gotham eventually cleared their lines.
In the 75th minute, Gotham got into a good position in the Thorns’ area. They were unable to take advantage and shanked the shot into a defender. Portland had a great chance of their own on the other end. Weaver played a delightful ball to substitute Yazmeen Ryan. Ryan got in front of her defender but launched her shot over the bar.
Gotham would finally take advantage of their superiority in the second half in the 78th minute. Lee So-Dam dropped the ball to Dydasco, who swung the ball to Lloyd. Lloyd fired her header into the back of the net to cut the Thorns’ lead to one.
The Thorns had multiple opportunities to extend their lead in transition as Gotham pushed for an equalizer. Portland defended deep in their own area for the majority of stoppage time to see out the match as the Thorns handed Freya Coombe her first loss at Providence Park.
Portland Thorns play rivals OL Reign at Lumen Field next. This match is part of a Cascadia rivalry doubleheader on Aug. 29. The Thorns and Reign kickoff at 4:00 p.m. PST and the Timbers and Sounders kickoff at 7:30 p.m. PST.