Thorns smoke OL Reign
The National Women's Soccer League Fall Series is providing an opportunity for the Portland Thorns to build for the future.
The second of their four matches in the series showed some of that growth. It also showed that at age 37, Christine Sinclair remains a force with no sign of slowing down.
Sinclair scored three goals and Rocky Rodriguez delivered a howitzer as the Thorns beat OL Reign from Tacoma 4-1 on Wednesday, Sept. 30, in a match played without fans at Providence Park.
Sinclair scored twice late in the first half and scored with a nifty dribble and low shot in the 74th minute for her third hat trick as a member of the Thorns.
"It's scary to think there's more in the tank, but there is," Thorns coach Mark Parsons said after a strong performance from his club. "There's a lot more in the tank for this group, collectively and individually — led by Sinc, who keeps getting younger and younger. What an unbelievable performance."
Parsons said Sinclair's impact went well beyond her world-class finishing, pointing to the work she did defensively and to create space for herself and teammates against a Reign setup intent on limiting her influence.
The Thorns are 2-0 in the NWSL Fall Series. The Reign are 0-1-1.
Wednesday's match was originally scheduled to be played Sept. 12, then moved to Sept. 15 and eventually to Sept. 30 because of wildfire smoke. The postponement means Portland will have a quick turnaround and play their third of four Fall Series matches at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, against Utah Royals FC at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, a match that will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
Wednesday's match was the second of two at Providence Park this fall for the Thorns, who won 3-0 against Utah on Sept. 20 and leads the Fall Series with six points from two games.
Even without their passionate fans, Parsons and the Thorns stressed the significance of playing well in their home stadium. After the first 30 minutes, Portland's upfield pressure and ability to win back possession quickly shifted the momentum significantly Wednesday.
Sinclair said the team is more comfortable taking chances upfield because of the trust there is for the defensive players.
"The thing we've been working on is finishing our attack," Sinclair said, noting that it was a part of the game that let down the Thorns at the NWSL Challenge Cup tournament. "Not only are we finishing chances, but we're creating a lot of chances. I think our forwards have been playing great. They've been putting the opposition under tremendous pressure."
The first half featured a couple of quality chances for the visitors before Sinclair and the Thorns broke through.
Sinclair opened the scoring in the 40th minute on a play that started with a quick combination on the left touchline between Lindsey Horan and Meghan Klingenberg. Horan was able to drive into the penalty area and angle a ball back for Sinclair to strike for the first time.
Late in first-half stoppage time, Simone Charley was fouled by Taylor Smith just inside the left border of the penalty area. Sinclair calmly slotted the penalty kick past Reign goalkeeper Michelle Betos.
Rodriguez's goal was something special. On a recycled attack, Charley sent a left-footed cross into the box that Rodriguez struck cleanly with a left-footed volley from 12 yards.
"That's like a dream goal that you would want to score not only in Providence Park, but your first goal with the Thorns," Rodriguez said. "What a special night for me and, of course, for the team as well. It meant a lot to me to be able to contribute for the team. And that goal, it's just so much fun. That's the kind of goal I think you enjoy double."
Bethany Balcer scored for the visitors in the 71st minute, rising above Sinclair's mark to head home a Jasmyne Spencer delivery on a play that started with a Reign corner kick.
Portland goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom came up with two huge stops among her seven saves, allowing Portland to never trail and to win by a comfortable margin. In the fifth minute, when she reacted to push a close-range Balcer header over the goal. In the 65th minute, Eckerstrom made a strong reaction stop to deny Spencer.
The Thorns struggled for the first half-hour or so to find paths through midfield with the ball, but had success advancing up the left wing through Klingenberg — and that's where the match-changing first goal developed. A run off the ball by Tyler Lussi created space for Horan to attack and set up Sinclair for a first-touch strike.
Portland rookie forwards Sophia Smith and Morgan Weaver both came on as second-half subs, the first time the top two picks in the 2020 NWSL Draft have been on the field together in a Thorns match.
Portland outshot OL Reign 20-10 (8-8 on goal), with Sinclair converting each of her three shots. Smith, who was on the field for about 40 minutes, took a team-high five shots and came close to scoring in her second consecutive relief appearance.
Centerback Becky Sauerbrunn started and played the first half alongside Emily Menges, with Kelli Hubly taking over in the second half. Madison Pogarch played about 40 minutes at right back, coming on in the second half for Christen Westphal.
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