Thorns' night turns out just OK
A night that might have been a fantastic cap to the first phase of the season turned out to be only OK for the Portland Thorns.
The Thorns had their chances in the second half, but settled for a 1-1 draw with the Washington Spirit on Friday in front of a crowd of 14,485 at Providence Park. The night featured the 2018 debut of Tobin Heath, but included injury news for some of her Thorns teammates.
Christine Sinclair converted a penalty kick at the end of the first half for the Thorns' goal.
Portland (2-1-1) is tied with Chicago for second place with seven points through four National Women's Soccer League games.
Washington (1-1-2, 4) is fifth.
The Spirit scored from a scramble off a corner kick in the 37th minute. Washington's Francisca Ordega scored from her backside in the goal mouth.
Portland had several chances to take a second-half lead — including a PK late in the match that was saved by Washington goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. Lindsey Horan took the kick because Sinclair was in pain after a rough collision on the defensive end.
Celeste Boureille had a header off the rebound of the saved penalty kick, but missed the target.
The Thorns were a makeshift group of sorts. Starting goalkeeper Adrianna Franch missed the game with knee pain and wide back Meghan Klingenberg was out with a muscle injury.
Thorns coach Mark Parsons said Franch's pain came out of the blue. He hopes to learn more about her situation over the weekend. Klingenberg's injury, while too painful for her to play on Friday, is not expected to be a long-term issue, according to Parsons.
Goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom made four saves in her Thorns debut.
"Britt came in and I thought was really good," Parsons said.
Mallory Weber, who has been starting at forward this season, shifted into Klingenberg's left-wing back position.
"I thought she did really, really well," Parsons said. "Dealing with that front three was really tough, and she had Taylor Smith and Mal Pugh and Ordega at times coming over."
A collision between Eckerstrom and Sinclair in the 62nd minute left the Thorns captain doubled over for a few minutes. She finished the match, but was in too much pain to take the second PK.
"She's in pain," Parsons said. "Fingers crossed."
Heath, who came off the bench for the final half hour, was thrilled to get her first action of the season after healing from offseason ankle surgery.
"I am very happy to be playing," Heath said, adding with a laugh that her fitness level is "bad."
"I'll just keep growing into fitness," Heath said. "You've got to get match-fit. Obviously you can only do so much in training. I'm just thankful for the minutes and to continue my progress on the pitch now."
The Thorns spent much of the first half on the defensive. Portland's Midge Purce got a foot on the initial corner kick that led to Washington's goal, but the ball floated behind her into the 6-yard box. Eckerstrom tried unsuccessfully to grab the ball, and a scramble ensued.
"It was sort of a weird clearance and then a scramble, dog pile sort of thing, and I couldn't figure out how to help the situation," Eckerstrom said. "That was unfortunate."
Washington felt unlucky to be tied after playing a strong first half.
The Thorns were tied at the break thanks to a quick move from Ifeoma Onumonu. She collected a short pass from Boureille at the top of the penalty area, spun quickly toward the goal and was tripped as she split a pair of defenders.
Sinclair calmly put the ball into the right side of the net for her fourth goal of this season and 35th career NWSL goal, tying her with Christen Press for third most in league history.
Next for Portland is a road match on Saturday, April 28 against the Utah Royals. The next home game is on May 5 against Seattle.
Three key players are expected to join the Thorns this week. Australians Hayley Raso and Ellie Carpenter are slated to arrive over the weekend, and Brazilian midfielder Andressinha should be in Portland on Tuesday.