Portland Thorns blank Chicago Red Stars 3-0 Sunday
The Portland Thorns capped their regular-season home schedule with a strong effort in a 3-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday, Sept. 25, that keeps them on schedule for a second consecutive National Women's Soccer League shield. A win in the season finale next Saturday at NJ/NY Gotham FC will clinch the top spot in the regular-season standings.
Morgan Weaver scored twice and Taylor Porter added a wonderful third goal for the 19,127 fans at Providence Park to celebrate.
Thorns, 48th minute — Morgan Weaver dribbles into the box with her right foot then drives a low left-footed shot into the right side of the goal.
Thorns, 61st minute — After an extended possession in and around the box, Weaver scores her second with a tap in off a ball from Sophia Smith. Smith was able to find space in the right side of the area on a through pass from Natalia Kuikka.
Thorns, 90+3 minute — Taylor Porter ripped a shot from about 27 yards into the upper left corner of the net for her third goal of the season.
Big picture: In a highly-competitive league, the Thorns have a chance to finish at the top of the standings for a second year in a row. Coach Rhian Wilkinson, in her first season at the helm, repeated in her postgame comments that the team doesn't look at the standings and only addresses what it can control. The Thorns certainly controlled the Red Stars on Sunday.
At 10-3-8 for 38 points, Portland is one point up on Puget Sound rival OL Reign heading into the final match of the season. Portland's plus-25 goal differential gives it the leg up in any tie-breaking scenarios. Kansas City is two points back of Portland, and San Diego can move to the No. 2 slot heading into the final weekend should it beat Orlando late Sunday.
Second-half surge: For the second time in five days, the Thorns broke a scoreless tie early in the second half and went on to a dominant win. Wilkinson said that's no accident, that her team's first-half play has worn on both Chicago Sunday and on Louisville on Wednesday.
"I don't think we can underestimate the importance of the first half in a few of our games, because we just wear teams down. And the second-half fatigue, heat," she said. "We've actually really made (opponents) work so spaces open up and we took advantage of them."
Weaver's day: Portland's left-side attacker missed a great chance at a third goal, sending a close-range one-timer high. But Weaver's first goal was a well-taken chance. She dribbled in form the left corner of the 18-yard box, using five soft touches with her right foot as a defender retreated than pushed the ball into space and placed a low shot into the right side of the net. Her second goal came at the end of sustained possession by the Thorns in and around the box, a delivery from Smith setting up the easy finish.
"Soph and I've been working a lot better each time we play together. So we're finding each other more and more and so it's been a really fun time," Weaver said.
Weaver certainly had fun after her first goal as she and Kelli Hubly performed a unique celebration. Weaver explained she was pretending to be one of those inflatable stick people used to attract folks to car lots. On celebrating goals in general: "It's something that we get to do. Some players don't want to celebrate like that, and that's completely their choice, but some players do and I think Kelli and I just kind of make it fun for each other and we think of random things. So now we gotta wait for next game and see what happens."
Smith's status: Sophia Smith appeared to hit the back of her head hard on the turf on the final play of the game. "She's going to be checked out thoroughly, but we don't know anything right now," Wilkinson said postgame.
Smith was all smiles moments later, accepting her player of the year award from the Rose City Riveters supporters group.
Kuikka on Portland: Left back Natalia Kuikka last week signed on for another season with the Thorns. "I have really enjoyed my time here. I think the training environment and my teammates are really good. I think I'm learning more every time I go out there and I think there's still so much more to learn. I think it's a good environment me to stay. I want to settle down for a bit somewhere and I have, I guess, fallen in love with Portland. So it's nice to know staying here and make it feel more like home."
Wilkinson wardrobe: Wilkinson was among the NWSL coaches on Sunday who wore a shirt in support of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who remains detained in Russia.
"It's a nod of course to an incredible athlete who needs support and encouragement, needs to be kept in the public eye," Wilkinson said. "I also think the NWSL is, and always has been, a very strong voice for those that are unseen, unheard or who've been forgotten. I don't usually wear much other than black, but I do think this is one that needed to be worn and just make sure the conversation is still happening. Because one of our own is in a bad situation and we've got work to do."
Next Thorns match: Portland at NJ/NY Gotham FC, 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 (FOX 12 Plus, Paramount+, Evoca TV).
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