After three consecutive losses (2 for WICC and 1 for the regular season), the Portland Thorns wanted to turn the page in last night’s important game against San Diego.
It was the fourth match in ten days for Portland but they started this one with a lot of energy, ready to defend their home. Bella Bixby was in goal again after she didn’t travel to North Carolina for precautionary reasons, and the rest of the starting lineup made it clear that head coach Rhian Wilkinson wasn’t messing around. Maybe the only clear absentee was Emily Menges, who’s still coming back from her foot injury and has been playing some minutes as a sub.
The Thorns’ intentions were left pretty clear just mere seconds after the initial kick-off when Morgan Weaver stole the ball and went for goal. She couldn’t put it on frame but that attack was proof that the home team wanted to get control of the game early on. It was too bad that, as the minutes passed by, Portland’s clarity in the attack started to fade away.
Sophia Smith was closely marked during the entire match. The Wave neutralized the Thorns’ major weapon, and with it, a big part of the threat Portland brings. Naomi Girma did an excellent job in this regard, closing the forward’s channels to the goal over and over again during the entire match.
And speaking of main weapons, everybody knows Alex Morgan is San Diego’s. The visitors had two main plans: One involved finding the USWNT striker by sending long balls to the back of the central defenders when possible so Morgan could take advantage of them with her speed. Plan B involved second balls— and that’s how the first goal of the game came to be.
The Wave added numbers to the attack as the minutes passed by and the goal they scored in minute 16 was a team effort. After Amirah Ali dispossessed Rocky in the midfield, the Thorns let their opponent have way too many touches near the box, and San Diego kept adding players to the attack. After Belle Briede and Morgan couldn’t find the space to shoot inside the box, the latter saw Kristen McNabb coming to their aid and passed the ball back. McNabb’s shot was clean and perfect. Bella could only watch as the ball hit the top corner.
Five minutes later, we would have a glimpse into the future regarding the second goal of the match. Kailen Sheridan sent a long ball to a running Morgan. This didn’t get to its destination, but the plan was clear.
Morgan Weaver was the only player who found some space to go forward, partly due to her dribbling abilities. At minute 25, she dribbled around Wave’s players and sent a pass to Sinclair but she was one second late and the opponent regained possession. She was marked by Madison Pogarch during the entire match and the former Thorn had key interventions when it came to denying Weaver the possibility of getting in contact with the ball.
San Diego was very patient while trying to build from the back and overcoming the Thorns' pressing. They also did a good job when losing the ball, regaining possession and blocking shots pretty quickly, as we could see in minute 27.
Nearing the half hour of the first half, Portland had the Wave playing on their side of the field, defending with a low block.
Smith had a few chances in the first 45 minutes, one of them came at minute 33 when she found a pocket of space after a Portland throw-in. She missed by inches.
The second Wave goal came just before halftime. The visitors showed patience again while building from the back and Sheridan spotted Morgan, running behind the center backs. Once she beat them, it didn’t take much to beat Bella. And with that goal, she also climbed to the top of the 2022 Golden Boot race.
Pogarch became key to stopping Portland’s intentions of pulling one back. Near the end of the first half, Sinclair and Klingenberg built a good play on the left but once again the former Thorn covered well and didn’t let them send the service to the middle of the box.
The second half of nothingness
Portland started the second half with possession, but San Diego put up a low block again that was almost impenetrable. Nearing minute 55 Wave FC coach Caesy Stoney decided to give more mobility to her team putting Kelsey Turnbow and Makenzy Doniak on the field. The plan worked, but they couldn’t make damage much during the rest of the match.
The Thorns kept sending in crosses, but the Wave occupied pretty well the spaces inside the box, making it impossible for any player to connect with them. Smith had to move to the wings to get any kind of contact with the ball and she got to send some crosses as well, but none of them connected with her teammates.
Near minute 80, Yazmeen Ryan and Janine Beckie entered for Hina Sugita and Meghan Klingenberg. Two minutes later, Smith advanced with space ahead of her on the right but the defense didn’t let her move not even one inch to the middle to find a better angle to shoot, and so her shot hit the outside of the net.
It was minute 85 when the forward finally got to shoot inside the box after Beckie danced among three defenders and sent a cross to the box. Too bad Sophia’s shot went too high. It’s noteworthy that, as we can see in the image above, the only player attempting crosses and being successful with them was Beckie. Olivia Moultrie was the final substitution of the match for Natalia Kuikka but she barely touched the ball with such a short amount of time left.
After this result, Portland dropped down to third place. Houston Dash is now second and San Diego is at the top of the table. The Thorns have still one game in hand and also have some days to rest now that we are entering the FIFA international break. The club will be back on September 9, when they play against Orlando Pride at Orlando City Stadium.
After a rough month, I just want to say, I’m glad August is over.