Late into the evening on Saturday, the Portland Thorns took on the Boston Breakers in the last game of Week 7 of NWSL play. This was the second meeting of the two teams in as many weeks, with Boston salvaging a point at home in the form of a 2-2 draw. This result added a level of intrigue to an otherwise routine matchup between the 2016 shield winners and the last place team of the previous season. Boston’s lineup features some young but exciting upstarts, while Portland has the experience and pedigree to exert their will on the run of play, especially at home. This was certainly going to be a new challenge for in Boston’s search for improvement, and for Portland’s need to turn their cohesive play into comfortable wins.
A whirlwind start
The match started out as perfectly as possible for the hosts, when an early Nadia Nadim corner kick in the first minute of play found its way to the head of Amandine Henry, who directed the ball to Lindsey Horan, who was then able to find the back of the net by way of a deflection from Boston defender Julie King (it was eventually ruled an own goal from Boston). And the nightmare start didn’t end there for Boston, when in the fifth minute Henry took advantage of a gap in the Boston defense to rocket a shot past Boston keeper (and recent USWNT invitee) Abby Smith to double Portland’s lead. From that point on, Boston’s young team was understandably shaken, and they continued to struggle to come up with any answers to Portland’s relentless press. Horan and Henry had particularly active games for Portland, an uptick in quality of play that the Thorns have desperately needed from their stacked midfield that is still sorely missing the injured Tobin Heath. Boston was able to close out the half without conceding a third goal, but the 2-0 score-line only told half the story of a decidedly one-sided affair.
Time to regroup
Boston was able to regroup somewhat in the second half, and midfielder Rose Lavelle continued to impress with her ability to draw defenders out of position with her ball movement, and their higher possession allowed the defense to stay organized against the Portland attack. However, Boston’s off-the-ball positioning often left them struggling to find a final pass that could be dangerously sent towards the Portland goal. Overall, the Breakers showed spirit after losing control of the game so early, but at this point in the season they didn’t have the answers to Portland’s disciplined and experienced game plan. Boston’s frustration finally overflowed in the dying minutes of the match when, in the 91st minute, defender Allysha Chapman attempted a hard tackle through the feet of Portland forward Hayley Raso, and was sent off with a straight red card, leaving Boston to finish out the match with 10 players. The 2-0 score-line would ultimately hold in a victory for the hosts.
Boston will certainly walk away from this match having learned their way through a scenario that many of the players had never faced before, but they are going to need to work on a quicker response time to the game not going their way, as well as the ability to bring their best on the road (Boston has famously struggled for away wins for years). Portland will have to be very happy with the contribution from the midfield, which was able to put the whole package together for their most impressive win of the season. The Thorns will only look to be even more dangerous in their quest to retain the top of the table for a second season.