Practice time helps Sinclair, Morgan get more in sync

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Marian Dougherty scores the first home goal in Portland Thorns' FC history, as the club topped the Seattle Reign FC 2-1 at Jeld-Wen Field.Portland Thorns FC striker Christine Sinclair, a Canadian national team star, dribbles down the right side of the pitch, her head on a swivel.

She sees Thorns striker Alex Morgan, a U.S. national team standout, start a run into the box.

With a Seattle Reign FC defender bearing down on her, Sinclair dishes a pass to Morgan.

The pass hits Morgan in stride.

Morgan takes a touch and fires a shot to the right post.

The shot is true, and the Thorns lead the Reign 2-0.

That was the scene early in the second half last Sunday, as the Thorns toppled the Reign 2-1 in the first National Women’s Soccer League game at Jeld-Wen Field.

“Those two players are world class —understatement of the year right there,” says Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone. “You put them together and they just work together. They know where each other wants the ball and in what areas they want it. It was fun to watch them combine.”

The talk before the season was that Sinclair and Morgan would combine to be one of the most dynamic striking duos in the world. That prophecy began coming true in Portland’s home victory.

The exciting thing for the Thorns (1-0-1, 4 points) — and the terrifying thing for the rest of the NWSL — is that Morgan and Sinclair figure to get even better as an attacking duo.

In the Thorns’ April 13 season opener at FC Kansas City, Sinclair buried a penalty kick, rallying Portland to a 1-1 draw. A week later, the Sinclair-Morgan combo was more of a threat already.

“Playing in the last league (Women’s Professional Soccer) together in Western New York helped a little bit,” Morgan says. “But having this last week together and being able to practice five or six times together really helped the rhythm of the game, really helped us feed off each other and anticipate each other’s runs a little bit more.

“You really saw that with the goal (against Seattle).”

Next for Sinclair, Morgan and the other Thorns: a 5 p.m. PT Saturday match on the road against the Chicago Red Stars.

“Hopefully, we just continue to improve,” Sinclair says.

In both a preseason match against the University of Portland and then against Kansas City, the Thorns gave up an early goal.

Portland was much stronger defensively early in the Seattle match, and did not allow a goal until the 74th minute.

“Over time, defense is about minimizing our mistakes as well as preventing their good plays,” Portland defender Rachel Buehler says. “As we spend more time together, you get better and better, and we keep improving like that.

“First-half goals sometimes happen because you’re not on the offensive. We did a much better job (versus Seattle) of bringing the energy and the presence, and that helps not allow them to come at you as much.”

The Thorns scored their first set-piece goal of the season Sunday in the 45th minute. Midfielder Nikki Washington lined up for a free kick from 40 yards. She sent a dime slicing into the box. Defender Marian Dougherty rushed toward the pass and knocked in a header to the right post.

Dougherty says set pieces could become a powerful weapon for the Thorns because of both Washington’s ability to provide quality service and the skill that many of the players have in the air.

“We have amazing service with Nikki,” Dougherty says. “Then, between me and Sinclair and Becky Edwards and Rachel Buehler and Alex Morgan, we have some tall people who are good in the air. We’re going to be dangerous on set pieces going forward.”

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