Courage thump Thorns, 4-1
The Thorns won't play another game in Providence Park until late June.
The 15,018 who showed up at Providence Park on Wednesday didn't exactly see a game to remember.
The North Carolina Courage provided plenty of proof that they are the class of the National Women's Soccer League, throttling the Thorns, 4-1.
The result kept the Courage unbeaten (9-0-2, 29 points). The Thorns (4-4-3, 15), coming off two shutout wins, had one of their poorest efforts in recent memory.
Thorns coach Mark Parsons said he approached Wednesday's match as if it were for a trophy.
"We rolled the dice and wanted to give it everything we've got," he said. "We came out on the wrong side in a big way, and it was a bad night."
The game was in doubt an hour into it — and then it wasn't. The Courage scored three times in less than seven minutes midway through the second half to build a four-goal lead.
The only solace for Thorns followers was an 89th-minute goal from Katherine Reynolds. It was her first NWSL goal and came in the defender's 100th NWSL match.
The Courage scored the only first-half goal in the 31st minute. Lynn Williams converted a penalty kick after Debinha was fouled by Reynolds at the end of a North Carolina counterattack.
At halftime, Ellie Carpenter came on for Ana Crnogorcevic, and the Thorns started the second half with more energy.
Parsons had the game where he wanted it when he brought creative Brazilian midfielder Andressinha on in the 57th minute of a one-goal match.
The idea was that Andressinha's ability to possess the ball and find passing opportunities would give Portland the upper hand over the final half-hour.
Those plans crumbled less than a minute after Andressinha replaced Ifeoma Onumonu. The margin became 2-0 when Debinha shook free of Andressinha to meet a cross delivered by Crystal Dunn and head it past goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom from six yards.
Within six minutes, the margin was four.
Williams converted in the 62nd minute from a long Jessica McDonald throw-in that was headed along by Sam Mewis.
Mewis was unmarked in the 64th minute for a tap-in finish from a corner kick.
The last two goals were examples of North Carolina beating Portland consistently to contested balls. The Courage won 60 percent of the duels for possession, and took 14 of their 17 shots at goal from inside the penalty area.
Portland, on the other hand, struggled to create real opportunities outside of some individual play from Tobin Heath on the wing. The Thorns took nine shots and at one point had been out-shot 11-1. Only four of Portland shots came from inside the 18-yard box.
With a break for international games — Christine Sinclair (Canada), Heath, Lindsey Horan and Midge Purce (United States) are the Thorns joining national teams — Portland is idle until a June 16 match at Chicago.
The Thorns' only home match in the next month comes on June 27 against Sky Blue.
Parsons said the international break comes at a good time — not because of Wednesday's result but because the busy May schedule has limited quality training time.
"We look forward to refreshing, recharging and getting to work making the improvements we need to make," he said.
Eleven games into a 24-match schedule, the Thorns are fourth in the standings — though Houston can pass Portland should the Dash upset North Carolina on Sunday.
The Courage's nine wins and no losses through 11 games are no fluke. The team the Thorns edged in last season's NWSL championship match seems to be on a mission.
"Carolina can create and score in any moment," Parsons said, noting the Courage have been very good dating to 2016, when the team was in Western New York. "I thought they were very, very good tonight — very good on both sides of the ball. And we were not as consistent as we normally are. You let a good team have opportunities, they're going to take them."
From Portland's perspective, the most telling number is this: The Thorns have allowed 16 goals and scored only 15. A year ago, Portland was scored on only 20 times in 24 games.
Certainly injuries — including to goalkeeper Adrianna Franch and more recently to center back Emily Sonnett — have taken a toll. But it wasn't only the back four who were responsible for the marking breakdowns on the third and fourth Carolina goals, both from restarts.
"We can't get too low at this point, like we couldn't get too high the last couple of weeks," Parsons said. "We keep grinding. We keep moving forward. There's no doubt this team has the quality, this team has the heart, to be in a better position in the next few weeks and the next few months."