Sunday, June 20: Thorns 1, KC NWSL 0
The goals: Simone Charley beat goalkeeper Abby Smith to a ball over the top from Crystal Dunn and rolled the ball into the goal (1-0 Thorns, 45+5).
What it means: Portland improved to 4-2-0 for 12 points and, at least temporarily, into first place. KC NWSL is 0-4-2 for two points, at the bottom of the 10-team league.
The skinny: Playing in front of the largest allowed Providence Park crowd so far in 2021, Portland dominated the first half, but some missed opportunities and big stops by Smith (including a Christine Sinclair penalty kick and a open shot for Charley) kept the match scoreless through 45 minutes. It appeared it would be that way at halftime until a quick transition opportunity changed that. Smith came out of the penalty area, but Charley dashed in front of the keeper and touched the ball into space for the easy finish.
That would be the only goal. Momentum shifted in the second half as Kansas City started to get more possession and created several dangerous opportunities. The Thorns' pressure, and repress when losing possession, smothered the visitors for most of the first half. Portland wasn't as successful at that after halftime, a result of some changes for both teams and, it appeared, the heat taking some of the energy out of players' legs.
Thorns coach Mark Parsons gave KC credit for playing with more desperation in the second half, and said his team wasn't as tactically together in the second half. He said the heat on the Providence Park turf was a factor in that, as fatigue slowed reactions and decisions.
Charley's second goal of the season was a game-changer because KC was moments away from getting to halftime in a scoreless draw despite getting smothered by Portland for most of the first 45 minutes.
This was the Thorns third consecutive win, all shutouts for goalkeeper Adrianna Franch (five saves Sunday). Portland has scored eight more goals (12) than it's allowed through six games (four), by far the best ratio in the league.
Lineup notes: In the last game in Portland before they head to Olympic duty, most of the Thorns international players were in the starting lineup. Lindsey Horan was replaced at halftime after going down briefly with a leg issue just before. Parsons said Horan is fine, could have continued, but that he wanted to rest her with the Olympics looming. Becky Sauerbrunn played 60 minutes and Dunn 68, a significant workload at the end of a busy week for the U.S. internationals. Forward Sophia Smith came on at halftime and was instantly dangerous in the opening moments of the second half.
Oh, and the tireless Sinclair started at forward alongside Charley in the first half, because of an injury to Tyler Lussi and the need to play the minutes of forwards, Charley, Smith and Morgan Weaver for reduced minutes. Sinclair went the distance.
Franch on the crowd: "It's not even at full capacity. But anyone who hasn't experienced full capacity here wouldn't know, because the energy was there. You could tell people have been waiting for their time to be in the stadium and be a part of it."
Charley on her goal: "(Crystal Dunn) clipped a beautiful ball in. As I saw it dropping, I realized it was in between the defender and goalkeeper. That's enough space to get in between. I was able to bring it down and finish it."
Parsons on the match: "Tough conditions coming back from the international break. The togetherness and the performance in the first half was outstanding, in normal circumstances. With six, seven players coming back in (from national team duty), I'm just proud that we represented our identity and played like we want to play. Second half, showed great grit and togetherness and team spirit to be able to keep that clean sheet."
Next match: Portland at North Carolina, 4 p.m. Saturday, June 26 (KPDX TV; Paramount+ streaming).
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