Thorns score needed home win
The Utah Royals have been difficult to break down this season. Through their first eight National Women's Soccer League games, the first-year franchise had been scored against only five times.
But on Friday, the Portland Thorns used two pretty combination plays to grab an early lead in a 2-0 win at Providence Park.
Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan — no surprise — scored the goals.
And, Britt Eckerstrom made two saves in posting her second shutout in a row.
More significantly, it was the Thorns' second home win this season and broke a three-match home winless streak, to the delight of 15,113 fans.
The Thorns' second consecutive win improved Portland to 4-3-3 (15 points). The Royals are 2-2-5 (11).
"Good home win. Important home win," Thorns coach Mark Parsons said.
Parsons became the third coach to win 50 NWSL regular-season matches. Of those, 30 have come in his two-plus seasons at the Thorns helm.
As keys to this one, Parsons pointed to the effectiveness of the counterattack and the work of Emily Menges and Katherine Reynolds in containing Utah forward Amy Rodriguez.
"Those two had a big job trying to keep her quiet, which they did, which made this, in a really big game and a tough game, an easier game," Parsons said.
Reynolds, the Thorns' normal right back, played right center back in a back four alignment. In the absence of injured Emily Sonnett (back pain), Midge Purce dropped to right back and Portland shifted from a three-back formation.
Parsons said the formation switch to a 4-2-3-1 was about creating more opportunities for the players in front of the defense rather than containing the Royals.
"I think we still need some good work in the 4-2-3-1. Once we've got more experience, the switch between the two (formations) should be easier," Parsons said. "But it's not about the defenders. It's more about the higher players (and) keeping (Sinclair) in an important role."
Sinclair scored her sixth goal of the season to put Portland in front in the 18th minute.
At the end of a give-and-go with Tobin Heath, Sinclair was able to touch the ball and strike a left-footed shot from 17 yards that curled beyond the reach of diving Utah goalkeeper Abby Smith.
In the 39th minute, Horan scored her fourth goal of the season. She ran onto a cross from Meghan Klingenberg and put it home off her right knee.
The ability to stay organized without the ball and to strike when counterattack chances emerge have been a winning formula the past two games.
"I've liked the look of our counter the last two games," Parsons said. "It's fun to watch this talented group when they're flying like they were at times tonight."
The win moved Portland up to second in the NWSL standings, pending Saturday games involving the teams right behind the Thorns.
Next comes the opportunity to test themselves against unbeaten North Carolina. The Courage (8-0-2) are 11 points in front of the Thorns entering a 7:30 p.m. Wednesday visit to Providence Park.