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  • 2 Sep 2014

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Chicago sticks it to star-less Thorns

No Christine Sinclair, no Alex Morgan, no Rachel Buehler, no Karina LeBlanc, no win.

With four players on national team duty, the Portland Thorns FC had gaping holes to fill — at the striker positions without Sinclair and Morgan, at defender without Buehler and in goal without LeBlanc.

And, for 90 minutes Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Red Stars, the Thorns showed what kind of side they are without their four stars: very, very average.

The Red Stars did not exactly send out their best lineup. either. Chicago played without Canadian national team players Elin McLeod, Carmelina Moscato and Rachel Quon. And U.S. national player Shannon Boxx was not in the lineup, as she is recovering from knee surgery.

While both teams were playing at far less than full strength because of the call-up absences for a friendly in Toronto between the U.S. and Canada, the Red Stars dealt with the situation better than the Thorns, handing Portland a 2-0 defeat before an announced crowd of 12,446 at Jeld-Wen Field.

“Chicago played really well,” Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. “They moved the ball well and defended really hard. We didn’t do what we needed to do, attacking-wise. I’m so proud of my team. They fought, they battled. The players who played today, who don’t usually play, stepped up and did a good job.”

Former Portland State goalkeeper Cris Lewis (an amateur player called up for Saturday’s match) was solid between the posts for the Thorns. Lewis gave up two goals too many, though, and the Portland offense was stifled and was unable to let her off the hook.

“Cris Lewis played an outstanding game,” Cone said. “Neither goal was her fault by any means. She stepped up and commanded the goal and had good distribution.”

As the match began, the Thorns (6-2-1, 19 points) did not look nearly as dangerous on the attack as they normally do. When Sinclair and Morgan are up top, Portland often pushes the ball hard up the pitch, searching for the chance to allow one of their superstar strikers to put the ball in the back of the net.

On Saturday, the Thorns were more methodical. The service passes into the box were neither sharp nor crisp, and Portland had a difficult time creating dangerous opportunities.

“The game happened so fast,” Thorns striker Danielle Foxhoven said. “For a lot of our girls who haven’t had the experience that Alex Morgan or Christine Sinclair have had at this level, we were just a little bit off, or maybe a step behind.”

The Thorns defense looked bulletproof early, though, making the Red Stars (1-4-2, 5 points) work for every inch of the pitch they moved the ball and keeping pressure off Lewis.

The Thorns nearly went a goal up in the 32nd minute, when striker Mana Shim got the ball on the right side of the pitch, 14 yards from goal. Shim blasted a right-footed shot and put the ball on frame. It went directly to Chicago goalkeeper Taylor Vancil, though. Vancil spilled the ball back into the box, but the Red Stars were able to clear it and end the threat.

In the 35th minute, the Red Stars earned a corner kick from the right side. Red Stars defender Lydia Vandenbergh sent the ball into the six-yard box to fellow defender Michelle Wenino. When the ball got to her, Wenino headed it to Zakiya Bywaters. The Red Stars midfielder had slipped behind the Thorns back line, and she headed in the ball to the near post.

“They found the back post,” Thorns midfielder Becky Edwards said. “They headed it back across. It was poor marking in the box.”

While they did not have much of the possession, the Red Stars were able to punish the Thorns again in the 62nd minute.

Chicago defender Lydia Vandenbergh gorgeous, free-kick cross into the six-yard box. Jackie Santacaterina slipped past Edwards and was able to get on the end of the pass and tap in a shot from pointblank range.

“It was a scramble in the box,” Edwards said. “They played it to the back side and just got a tap-in.”

In the 78th minute, frustration boiled over for the Thorns, as assistant coach John Galas was sent off the pitch for dissension.

“I have no idea (what happened),” Cone said. “He (Galas) didn’t even say anything.”

The Thorns' four national team players will be back by Thursday, when Portland plays host to FC Kansas City.

“You have to be able to play games without them,” Cone said. “But we always want our national team players to be with us.”