Week 16 featured a potential NWSL postseason matchup as the Chicago Red Stars, then the number two team, hosted the Portland Thorns, the number three team. It was a pivotal matchup for both teams in a race for the NWSL Shield and to stay ahead within the top four. A win for the Red Stars would put them a point away from the Courage, but a loss would see them drop to third, allowing the Thorns to take their spot.
At this point in the season, every point matters for every team, but points are imperative for the teams in the top four - for the Shield (the season's best record) and for a playoff spot.
For Chicago, the Thorns are a team they have struggled against. Their last victory over the Thorns was in 2013, and the matchup between them earlier this season was a 1-0 victory for Portland. Before Saturday, the Red Stars were 1-5-6 all-time against the Thorns. But the Red Stars, at Toyota Park, held an 8-game home unbeaten streak. That stat didn't matter, however, as the Thorns frustrated the Red Stars again on a game-winning goal by Emily Sonnett in the 55th minute.
First Half, Four Goals
By the end of the first 45 minutes of play, four goals were scored between the two teams, and it did not take long from the opening kickoff for Portland to take the lead.
In the 3rd minute, Lindsey Horan sent a long ball from the middle third into space to Hayley Raso, who was making a run that was on pace to beat her defender Sam Johnson and the entire Chicago back line. Johnson attempted to stop Raso, but the Australian international got the touch she needed to send the ball into the net, past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. With the goal, Raso recorded her third goal of the season.
Not even at the ten-minute mark, Portland took the 2-0 lead. A series of passes in the Chicago goal led to the second goal in the 9th minute. Raso made a run on the right flank and passed to midfielder Amandine Henry towards the end line. Henry then crossed the ball into the middle of the box for Dagný Brynjarsdóttir, who set up Christine Sinclair with a one touch, and the Canadian international finished with the goal.
The Red Stars fought back, and in the 16th minute gave themselves a chance by cutting the Thorns' lead by one. An initial save by goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, after an Alyssa Mautz strike from a distance, hit the crossbar and rebounded right into Christen Press, who easily put it into the Thorns' goal. Press netted her ninth goal of the season, giving Chicago a chance with plenty of game to play.
In the 38th minute, the Red Stars equalized. Sam Johnson sent a long ball into some traffic in the goal box for Julie Ertz. Three defenders took on Ertz, but Ertz was able to pass the ball to Sofia Huerta, who took a couple of touches to the right to set up her right-footed shot that beat Franch. Huerta scored her fifth goal of the season, and the game went into halftime all tied up at 2-2.
The Game-Winning Goal and Controversy
As the teams returned for the second half, both teams attempted to take the lead, but it was Portland who broke through in the 55th minute.
Chicago's Arin Gilliland received a yellow card for a foul on Ashleigh Sykes. The foul set up the Thorns for their eventual game-winning goal. Meghan Klingenberg's free kick seared into the box towards the penalty spot. There, Emily Sonnett was able to head it into the goal. Klingenberg tallied her fourth assist of the season, tied for second most in the league, and Sonnett scored her second goal of 2017.
Portland dominated the remainder of the second half, defensively and physically. Defensively, the Thorns did not give up a single shot on goal. Physically, Tyler Lussi fouled Danielle Colaprico in the 62nd minute that needed the Chicago midfielder to be subbed out. Replay showed Lussi taking down Colaprico by her braid, stepping on her wrist along the way as Colaprico fell to the ground. Whether the Red Stars decide to pursue further action on Lussi will remain to be seen this week.
Both Portland and Chicago prepare next for a Wednesday matchup. Portland travels to FC Kansas City, and the Red Stars welcome the Seattle Reign.