Thursday, April 15: Thorns 1, Red Stars 0
The goals: Morgan Weaver scored in the 66th minute for visiting Portland, converting with a low, left-footed shot from 13 yards that caught the inside of the right post. Celeste Boureille set up the play by sending a ball from midfield curling into the path of Weaver, who had a half-step on defender Casey Short.
The skinny: It wasn't anything fancy, but the Portland Thorns found a path to victory through one well-placed ball and one technical finish on Thursday, April 15, at Chicago. At 2-0-0, Portland is atop the West Division in the National Women's Soccer League Challenge Cup with two games remaining. The Thorns expect to have their national team players available for the two remaining Challenge Cup games. The winner of the West will play the top team from the East for the Challenge Cup championship before the NWLS regular season begins.
Portland struggled to maintain possession, especially in the first half, but kept its defensive focus and denied Chicago any Grade-A scoring chances. The Thorns' first real chance came in the 52nd minute, when a 23-yard shot by Tyler Lussi hit the crossbar after a Marissa Everett pass sent Lussi behind the defense.
After a blah effort in the first half, with bumpy field conditions, cool temperatures and Chicago's pressure making the Thorns hesitate, Portland played with considerably better energy in the second half, particularly after Lussi's scoring chance.
Rich Gunney filled in as the coach for suspended Mark Parsons and is now 2-0 in such scenarios, with both wins coming at Chicago.
Weaver would have missed the match had her red card from the April 9 home match not been overturned by the NWSL discipline committee.
Notable numbers: Portland goalkeeper Adrianna Franch was credited with five saves, though none of them was high difficulty. … Chicago had 24 crosses into the box in open play and eight corner kicks but could not create a clean look at goal. … The goal was Portland's only shot on target.
Player of the match: In addition to her perfectly weighted forward pass to set up Weaver's goal, Boureille led all players with nine tackles in her midfield position.
Lineup notes: In a pregame decision, Rocky Rodriguez played the first half and Angela Salem the second half in central midfield as both players deal with minor knocks. Salem played a strong second half, and was key in getting Portland out of tight spots. … Natalia Kuikka played the first 71 minutes at right center back, then shifted to right back when Emily Menges, working back from injury, replaced starting right back Christen Westphal. … Madison Pogarch went the distance at left back alongside Kelli Hubly. … Meghan Klingenberg played in midfield for the second game in a row. … Meaghan Nally made her NWSL debut, replacing a hobbled Everett in the 83rd minute.
Weaver on her goal: "The ball (Boureille) played in behind was amazing. She knew the perfect ball to play. We've been working on it in practice. That was amazing and just able to get the finish was awesome."
Rich Gunney said: "The threat of Morgan Weaver, particularly, caused a lot of problems in that second half. We didn't manage to get control of the game and play in those (attacking) areas in the first half. We got a little bit stuck in our defensive third, and did'nt quite solve their pressure as effectively as we hoped. But that's where we're at and we're trying to progress and we've got to keep trying to make those smart decisions."
Next up: The Thorns play host to rival OL Reign at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, at Providence Park, a game that will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
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