The Portland Thorns are used to having the most explosive, dynamic attack in the National Women's Soccer Leage. With strikers Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair, the Thorns are rarely outgunned.
On Saturday evening, though, Boston Breakers striker Sydney Leroux put on an offensive clinic at the expense of the Thorns. Leroux scored two goals in the first half, reading the defense and slicing through it so well she could have scored more.
But the two goals were all the Breakers needed to hand the Thorns a 2-0 defeat before an announced crowd of 12,436 at Jeld-Wen Field.
Leroux, a 22-year-old U.S. national team player out of UCLA, scored in the 11th and 29th minutes. She has 10 goals this season and leads the NWSL, two ahead of FC Kansas City striker Lauren Cheney.
In the first half, we were playing exactly into Bostons strength, Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. Sydney Leroux is a world-class forward. You just cant give her the chance to turn and run on our defense. Shes going to put those away nine times out of 10. You cant give Sydney Leroux those types of chances in the first half.
The Thorns (8-4-2, 26 points) are second in the NWSL, trailing Sky Blue FC (9-3-3, 30 points).
We want to be in first place, Sinclair said. Were going through a little bit of a rough patch right now, but were a veteran group and well turn it around.
The Thorns attacked the Breakers from the opening whistle. In the second minute, Morgan broke into the box unmarked. She received a ball at her feet, but was just unable to get a shot off as Boston goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher came out to challenge her and smothered the ball just before Morgan could get to it.
Portland was almost caught sleeping in the sixth minute. Boston moved the ball to the attacking third. Defender Courtney Wetzel tried to clear the ball in the box, but sent it straight to the chest of Leroux. The Breakers striker took the ball to the ground and fired from eight yards. The ball went directly to Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, who caught it and kept the score 0-0.
Leroux would soon make up for the missed opportunity, though.
In the 11th minute, Breakers midfielder Heather OReilly won a ball between two Thorns defenders on the left side of the pitch. OReilly got the ball to Leroux at the top of the box, in the middle. Leroux chased down the ball and reached it with room between herself and the nearest Thorns defender. Without taking a touch, Leroux sent a right-footed rocket at goal. The ball beat a diving LeBlanc to the right post, and Boston had a 1-0 lead.
She got it off our back line and just had a really good shot, Thorns defender Rachel Buehler said.
Trailing, the Thorns began pressing the attack forward, trying to pepper the Breakers' goal with shots. The Thorns were unable to finish any of their chances, though, and Boston made Portland pay for it when Leroux struck again in the 39th minute.
Leroux took the ball down the right side, with Thorns defender Kathryn Williamson closely marking her. Leroux separated herself from Williamson at the top of the box and sent blistering right-footed shot to the left post, where LeBlanc had no chance of stopping it.
She was isolated, and shes super fast and had a good finish, Buehler said.
The Thorns went into the locker room at halftime looking shellshocked to be trailing the NWSLs fifth-place club 2-0.
The damage could have been far worse for the Thorns, as the Breakers put six of their nine shots of the half on frame, forcing LeBlanc to make four saves. The Thorns were only able to put one of their six first-half shots on goal.
As the second half began, the Breakers controlled more of the possession than the Thorns, once again putting LeBlanc under pressure and making her work for her living.
In the 60th minute, the Thorns had a golden opportunity to score. Morgan played a ball to Sinclair in the middle of the pitch, 12 yards from goal. Sinclair had a clean look, but seemed to mishit the ball, sending a soft rolling shot straight to Naeher. As she saw the shot saved, Sinclair covered her face in absolute disgust.
I hit it with my purse, Sinclair said, rolling her eyes. I had visions of it bending into the near post, but I just didnt hit it correctly.
The Thorns continued trying to attack the Breakers and give themselves a chance to get a point out of the match. Boston began packing it in to prevent the Thorns from getting clean looks at goal.
The Breakers were also opportunistic with their counter attacks. While nothing came from them, Boston was able to put enough pressure on the Portland back line to keep the Thorns honest.
Boston finished the match with 16 shots, putting eight balls on frame and forcing LeBlanc to make six saves.
The Thorns finished with a whopping 20 shots, but only seven on frame.
Unfortunately, we couldnt put the ball in the back of the net, Cone said. We were a bit unlucky at times. Their keeper made some good saves and other times we didnt place the ball where we wanted.
The Thorns will play again next Sunday at 2 p.m. at home against the Western New York Flash. It will be the first time the Thorns and the Flash, which feature U.S. striker Abby Wambach, have played this season.
The Thorns will have to do a much better job defending Wambach than they did defending Leroux.
We saw some of the changes (we need to make for next week) in the second half tonight, Cone said. We need to continue to make sure we dont give the ball away in the midfield, and weve got to keep a better shape defensively so we arent allowing that counterattack.