An overflow crowd of 5,011 packed the Maryland SoccerPlex and were treated to an exciting evening of soccer, as goals from forward Alex Morgan and midfielder Nikki Washington was all the Portland Thorns (3-0-1, 10pts) needed to extended their winning streak to three matches, while leaving the Washington Spirit winless (0-2-2, 2pts) four weeks into the inaugural NWSL season, with midfielder Diana Matheson tallying a goal late on a penalty kick.
The Thorns once again came out firing, pushing the Spirit defense from the onset and keeping goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris on edge, with forward Christine Sinclair taking an early shot from distance, but Harris was up to the task.
Controversy ensured early and often in this match, leading to Morgan’s goal in the 12th minute. Keeping with their defensive game plan, the Spirit collapsed in on Morgan near the top of the 18 yard box, leading to a foul by defender Domenica Hodak, that referee Christina Unkel judged to be in the penalty area, awarding the Thorns a penalty kick that Morgan calmly put in the back of the net.
“Ashlyn is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and Sinclair asked me if I wanted to take it, I thought about it for a second and if she knew where I was going to go and was like, ‘yeah, I want to take it,’” Morgan said after the match. “Ashlyn is a good friend of mine. I don’t think she quite knows where I’m going.”
Defensive poise became the story of the match for both sides, but the Spirit were pushed early and often, with Sinclair and Morgan having solid scoring chances, with Morgan’s attempt after steal the ball went off the near post in the 20th minute. The Spirit countered with several runs, but the Thorns defense was able to dispossess the attack, especially the play of defender Rachel Buehler.
“We’re sorting out our defensive pressure. We want to be a high-pressing team and we saw moments of it tonight,” said Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone. “The one turnover we were able to get a goal on was Nikki Washington’s in the second half (while Morgan hit the post after a turnover in the first half).”
The Thorns were much more of the attacking team in the first half, and the Spirit countered with a more physical style of play, trying to push the Thorns back in the midfield. This boiled over just before the break, when Morgan was challenged by both Hodak and Matheson, and the two had to be separated after a brief exchange. “I was a little fed up,” Morgan said. “I am not going to lie: Sometimes I can get a little feisty.”
As the teams entered the break, the Thorns had to be happy with the lead, while the Spirit was left questioning missed opportunities. As the game restarted, Spirit head coach Mike Jorden swapped midfielder Ingrid Wells for usual starting forward Tiffany McCarty, who had an immediate impact on the match.
A few minutes into the second half, McCarty took on three Thorns defenders, taking a shot that was blocked by Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.
Just a minute afterwards, it was the Thorns who would add to the score sheet. Off a turnover in the midfield, Washington stole a wayward pass by Spirit defender Ali Krieger, sending a curling ball just inside off the far post and past the outstretched hand of Harris.
With less than 40 minutes left in the match, the Spirit ramped up the offensive pressure, but without much success, almost giving up another goal as Sinclair shot an absolute laser that Harris was able to just top over the crossbar in the 67th minute.
As the clock continued to tick away, Jorden make the risky decision to make an offense for defense sub, brining on forward Jasmyne Spencer for Hodak, leaving three defenders in the back and going all in on offense. While this change ramped up the attack, especially in the last 10 minutes of the match, putting the Thorns under an offensive barrage, the Spirit weren’t able to score from the run of play, needing a penalty kick to score their lone goal of the match.
In the 86th minute, Thorns substitute defender Jazmyne Avant, replacing the injured Nikki Marshall, was called for a foul in the box. Matheson put the ensuing penalty kick in the back of the net, going center as LeBlanc guessed right, scoring her 3rd goal of the season.
The match featured 4 of the top 10 scorers in the NWSL. Matheson is currently second with 6 points from 3 goals, while Morgan and Sinclair are tied for fourth with 5 points from 2 goals and an assist each, and Washington is tenth with 3 points from a goal and an assist.
The story of the match though, was the ability of the defenses to absorb the pressure. “It’s easy when you have Robyn Gayle and Ali Krieger next to you and Ashlyn Harris behind you,” said Spirit defender Tori Huster. “One of the big things we focus on has been communication and the communication from Ali and Robyn has been phenomenal and it makes my job that much easier.”
Jorden sees continuing growth from his team, “Definitely some cohesion. I’m kind of tired of talking about how young we are, but it’s a reality. You look at Portland and they have a lot of good veteran players. We’ve got five or six rookies right out of the gate and they’re doing a great job. We’ve still got to keep learning a little bit more about each other. The fight is definitely there, just playing a little tighter and less mistakes, but I’m proud of them.”
The Thorns will conclude their three match road trip by returning to Chicago to face the Red Stars (0-1-2, 1pt) next Saturday, May 11th at 5:00pm CDT (3:00pm PDT) at Benedictine University Sports Complex in Lisle, Illinois. The Thorns and Red Stars faced off last weekend, with the Thorns shutting out the Red Stars 2-nil on goals by forward Danielle Foxhoven and Sinclair.
The Spirit will conclude their four match homestand by hosting the undefeated Boston Breakers (2-0-1, 7pts) on Saturday, May 11th at 7:00pm EDT at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The Spirit and Breakers played to a 1-1 draw in the first match of the season, with goals by McCarty and Boston forward Sydney Leroux.
Portland Thorns FC (3-0-1, 10pts) vs. Washington Spirit (0-2-2, 2pts)
May 4, 2013 – Maryland SoccerPlex (Boyds, Md.)
Goals by Half 1 2 F
POR 1 1 2
WAS 0 1 1
POR – Morgan (penalty kick) 12
POR – Washington (unassisted) 51
WAS – Matheson (penalty kick) 86
WAS – Harris (caution) 13
POR – Long (caution) 70
POR – Edwards (caution) 82
Lineups & Stats
POR: GK Karina LeBlanc; D Marian Dougherty, D Rachel Buehler, D Kathryn Williamson, D Nikki Marshall (Jazmyne Avant, 64), M Becky Edwards, M Allie Long (Courtney Wetzel, 83), M Meleana Shim (Danielle Foxhoven, 90+3), M Nikki Washington, F Christine Sinclair (capt.), F Alex Morgan
Substitutes Not Used: GK Adelaide Gay
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Sinclair, 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Sinclair/Morgan, 2); FOULS: 7 (Edwards/Shim, 2); OFFSIDES: 4; CORNER KICKS: 3; SAVES: 6
WAS: GK Ashlyn Harris; D Domenica Hodak (Jazmyne Spencer, 75), D Robyn Gayle, D Tori Huster, D Ali Krieger, M Lori Lindsey (capt.), M Diana Matheson, M Ingrid Wells (Tiffany McCarty, 46), M Julia Roberts, F Caroline Miller, F Stephanie Ochs
Substitutes Not Used: GK Chantel Jones, D Candace Chapman, D Kika Toulouse, M Colleen Williams, M Lupita Worbis
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Three players tied, 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (McCarty, 2); FOULS: 7 (Hodak, 4); OFFSIDES: 1; CORNER KICKS: 4; SAVES: 3
Referee: Christina Unkel
Assistant Referees: Shannon Poplstein, Danielle Chesky
Fourth Official: Hagan Barnett
Weather: 66 degrees, clear and breezy
All statistics contained in this box score are unofficial