Thorns blanked as season ends
Try as they might, the Portland Thorns could not solve their late-season scoring woes. Sunday, that deficiency meant the end of the road was the National Women's Soccer League semifinals.
Sam Kerr, the leading goal scorer in NWSL history, got behind the defense for a goal in the eighth minute and that was enough for the Chicago Red Stars to beat the visiting Thorns 1-0.
A crowd of 9,218 watched the match at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois.
Chicago advances to the championship for the first time after losing in its first four trips to the playoffs. The Red Stars will play the North Carolina Courage next Sunday at Cary, North Carolina for the NWSL title.
Portland scored one goal in the last six games it played this season, a head-scratching turn of event for a club that was averaging more than two goals a game through its first 19 matches.
Kerr had a great chance in the sixth minute that she sent just wide. But the league's all-time leader in goals did not miss two minutes later. A well-placed forward pass from Yuki Nagasato sent Kerr behind the Portland defense and she drove a low shot beyond the reach of Portland goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
Surprisingly, it was the first NWSL playoff goal for the Australian striker who has scored 77 goals in regular-season play.
The goal was the only shot on target for either team in the first half. Chicago was in control of the game for the first half hour before Portland managed to win some duels and string together passes. The closest thing to a chance for the Thorns in the first half came from an Elizabeth Ball cross that just missed a charging Tobin Heath in front of goal.
Thorns coach Mark Parsons replaced right wingback Ball with forward Hayley Raso at halftime and the Thorns asserted themselves for much of the second 45 minutes. But Chicago successfully defended its 18-yard box.
The best chance for Portland came in the 83rd minute when Midge Purce got a clean shot that went right to Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
That was one of only two shots on goal from the Thorns' 11 shots in the match.
Tobin Heath, Raso and Purce each got into the 18-yard box near the goal line during the second half but those difficult-angle chances did not turn into quality scoring opportunities.
Franch finished with three saves, two of them late in the match including on an open chance for Kerr late in stoppage time.
Portland coach Mark Parsons went with a starting lineup that included Andressinha in midfield and veteran Katherine Reynolds on the right side of a three center back formation. Normal starting right back Ellie Carpenter was available but did not play.
• In Sunday's other semifinal, the North Carolina Courage needed overtime to beat Reign FC 4-1 after former Thorns forward Ifeoma Onumonu scored in the final seconds of second-half stoppage time to send the game into 30 extra minutes.
Debinha was awarded a free kick and scored from it in the ninth minute of overtime for North Carolina, which added two more goals during the 30 extra minutes.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.