Reign move into first place with win at Thorns
The return of five players from the Women's World Cup didn't help the Portland Thorns unlock a disciplined defense on Friday at Providence Park.
Reign FC limited the Thorns chances and used a well-taken goal to beat Portland 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 19,113.
The Tacoma-based Reign FC leaped above the Thorns into first place in the Natiional Women's Soccer League. The Reign are 5-1-5 (20 points). The Thorns are 5-2-4 (19), tied for second with North Carolina pending two Saturday NWSL matches.
Portland is still without Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnett and Adrianna Franch as the U.S. prepares to face the Netherlands in Sunday's World Cup final.
All five players who have returned from the World Cup played Friday for Portland.
But the only goal came on a shot by Celia Jimenez in the 55th minute.
On a play that started with a free kick near midfield, the ball ping-ponged around the top of the penalty area with neither team getting a clean touch before Jimenez pounced on a loose ball and drove a solid 21-yard strike past Britt Eckerstrom.
Thorns coach Mark Parsons credited the Reign for a strong, professional performance and called the second consecutive home match without a goal for Portland a wake-up call.
"Unfortunately, we didn't ever land on the same page tonight offensively," Parsons said. "It's been a while since we've had a team sit in (defensively) after getting the lead. It was a new look for us to deal with. It starts with me — didn't deal with it that well."
As time ticked on afterthe Reign goal, Portland became more and more desperate to funnel passes toward the penalty area with no real plan.
"Watching us after the goal shows we've got a good amount of work to do.," Parsons said.
The one clean look all night for the home team came in the 86th minute, when the ball fell for Midge Purce, one of the most in-form scorers in the league. But her half-volley from eight yards went well high.
Parsons said this week and repeated on Friday that the next several weeks will be challenging as his team works to rebuild chemistry while players return from the World Cup.
"Soccer isn't a game about talent or tactics. It's about cohesion and chemistry and relationships and connections and understanding," Parsons said. "It doesn't matter how good players are. To be able to build that and grow and be an efficient and effective team takes time. At the same time while that's happening we still want to be able to put in a performance that gets us points."
Some of that work will happen over the next eight days as the Thorns prepare for a July 14 home match against Orlando.
"The game turned into a game where we had to have good relationships, good connections and good quality. That's the last thing we're probably going to have tonight with players coming back in from different systems," Parsons said.
Dagny Brynjharsdottir said it wasn't about the returning players not meshing, though her team lacked the sharpness needed to break through the Reign defense.
"They were really tight in the center, so looking back I wish we would have used the width a little better," said Brynjarsdottir, who started alongside Gabby Seiler in midfield.
Captain Christine Sinclair and forward Caitlin Foord started in their return from World Cup duty, and Ellie Carpenter made her second post-Cup appearance. Hayley Raso replaced Foord early in the second half, and Andressina came off the bench to provide another attacking option for the final 28 minutes.
Parsons noted that his team has had success with direct, quick attacks while playing on the road. That approach doesn't work as well at home if the opponent is committed to defending.
"This is an important wake-up call that we've got big steps to take," the Thorns coach said. "At home, you need to be the dominant team. You need to be able to dominate both sides of the ball."
Neither team could establish much rhythm in a first half played mostly between the 18-yard boxes — though the Thorns peppered the attacking 18-yard box over the last 10 minutes. Portland had a few half-chances, the best of them a back-heel attempt by Foord that goalkeeper Casey Murphy made a nice adjustment on to keep from sneaking inside the post.
With Megan Rapinoe, Allie Long and Jodie Taylor still at the World Cup, Reign FC has had its share of lineup challenges.
Five Reign players have suffered season-ending injuries, most recently the knee injury to midfielder Jess Fishlock, who was chosen NWSL player of the month for June. Also out for the season are former Thorns goalkeeper Michelle Betos (Achilles), defender Taylor Smith (knee), forward Jasmyne Spencer (knee) and forward Jaycie Johnson (knee).
Also sidelined for Friday were Japanese international midfielder Rumi Utsugi (calf), goalkeeper Scout Watson (concussion), midfielder Morgan Andrews (hamstring) and forward Darian Jenkins (hamstring).
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