The Portland Thorns FC smashed the Washington Spirit 4-1 on Saturday at Providence Park.
The Thorns make a statement
The two clubs entered this match as the last two remaining unbeaten teams in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL). When they faced each other on May 7th the game ended in a scoreless draw at Maureen Hendricks Field Maryland SoccerPlex. Both clubs' stubborn defenses frustrated each other in that match and the same was expected for the second game.
However, two things helped Portland hand Washington their first defeat of the season. The first was the return of Canadian international Christine Sinclair to the starting lineup. Sinclair made her first start of the season on Saturday and ended the match with an assist and was one of the main instruments in the build up for the second goal.
The second reason was the Thorns were finally home. Portland have now played six games this season, but four of the first five matches were on the road. In fact, the Thorns had not played a game at home since the season opener against the Orlando Pride on Sunday, April 17th. Portland's four-game road trip was solid as they finished with a victory against the Boston Breakers and three draws.
It was clear that the fans had missed their club as 15,823 came and supported their club. The players reacted by dropping three first-half goals to send the Spirit packing empty handed. Now Portland is the only club left who has yet to lose a game, their record is (W-D-L): 3-3-0.
"I said to the players straight after the game that there's going to be good nights and there's going to be special nights and this is a very special night for us. What makes tonight more special is what we did on the road," Thorns head coach Mark Parsons told Portland Thorns FC Communications after the victory. "The grit, the work ethic, the mentality – everything that four-game stretch was about and what we put into that road trip really tested us and brought us closer. That's what makes this so special tonight. The three points tonight means a bit less if we don't do the hard stuff in the last four games, but we did, and that makes tonight fantastic."
Portland ends the game in the first half
The Spirit started the game with the best defense in the league. In five matches Washington had only been scored on once. Their defense and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe had been shutting down teams for fun. However, that changed in the 27th minute with U.S. international Lindsey Horan heading the ball in to make it 1-0 for the home side.
Horan's third goal of the season came from Tobin Heath's accurate corner kick from the left-hand side. She curled the ball to a wide open Horan, who was near the right-hand post. Heath recorded her fifth assist of the season in six games.
The first goal only gave the home side confidence as they continued to push and were given an own goal four minutes later. However, Sinclair and Nadia Nadim were the main reason for the second goal. The Canadian international received the ball from a throw-in on the left-hand side of the field. She took a few steps towards the goal and then delivered a lethal pass to a running Nadim.
The passed led Nadim and the defender towards the center of the penalty box. The pass was a little ahead for the Danish international but she kept running and putting pressure on the defender and the goalie Labbe. The keeper ran out to blast the ball out of the box, but her clearance deflected off the chest of her defender and the ball rolled into the back of the net to make it 2-0.
The Thorns were in complete control of the match in the first half. Their defense stifled Washington and did not allow them to register a single attempt on goal. The Thorns, on the other hand, produced seven shots in the first 45 minutes.
Portland was going to enter the halftime break with a dominant 2-0 lead. However, in the 45th minute, Heath scored her first goal of the season and Portland's third on the night. Once again, the play started with Sinclair providing a through ball for Heath heading into the box. The U.S. international did not get a clean shot, but she followed the ball and slid to the ground to make it 3-0.
Washington has a pulse
The Spirit entered the break stunned at how the first half had panned out. However, in the second half, they managed to muster up a response by launching nine shots. Washington's efforts did lead to a goal in the 55th minute when midfielder Joanna Lohman scored with a well-placed header to left-hand post to make it 3-1.
However, it was U.S. international forward Crystal Dunn that did all the work to set up Lohman's goal. First, she took USWNT and Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg out to the extreme right in hopes of escaping her to deliver a cross. Klingenberg did not back down and started to close Dunn's angle.
Right when it seemed Dunn's moment had passed, she turned with the ball and used her back to shield Klingenberg. The speedy forward quickly launched a powerful cross right into the path of Lohman who finished the play.
The Thorns close out the game
Although the Spirit cut the lead to two goals, Portland continued to push forward. They created eight shots in the second half and nearly scored on several occasions, but Labbe was there to make five saves.
Portland then iced the match in the final 13 minutes of the game. Substitute Meagan Morris recovered a poor back pass from Washington at the top of the box. Morris took off and forced Labbe to come out of the net to challenge her. The 24-year-old kept her cool and curved the ball around the keeper to seal the 4-1 victory.
Where they stand
With this victory, Portland jumps from fourth to second place with 12 points. As for Washington, they still remain in first place with 13 points. However, another defeat can see the Spirit drop potentially to fourth.
Who they face next
The Spirit will be heading to the Lone Star State to face the Houston Dash at BBVA Compass Stadium on Friday. As for the Thorns, they will be staying in Portland and hosting rivals Seattle Reign FC on Sunday.