(in which Sky Blue prove to be generous hosts as the Thorns leave with their spoons and tea set)
Things continue to come to the Thorns in pairs, as the team posted a 2-0 win on the road versus Sky Blue FC. Lindsey Horan got her first two goals of the year. A penalty kick was awarded to Sky Blue, the second of the season against the Thorns, and for the second time Adrianna Franch saved it.
There were also some firsts for the team. Dagny Brynjarsdottir made her first appearance of the year after a lengthy recovery from back problems. Tobin Heath was on the bench for the first time, also nursing a bad back. And Hayley Raso failed to see the pitch for the first time this year as she was a late scratch.
Although the score matched last week’s Boston game, this was not an evening of Thorns domination. Sky Blue is a good team with dangerous players like Sam Kerr, Kelly O’Hara, and Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez. And they were at home where they hadn’t lost or been tied this year.
The match opened with sloppy and tentative play by both teams as the midfielders for both sides attacked everything that came near. In the 13th minute Sky Blue had an excellent chance on a Thorns corner kick. Nadim made a good delivery but Sinclair’s uncontested header went awry. Sky Blue were off to the races. Maya Hayes ran the length of the field with two teammates as escorts while Menges, Sonnett and Boureille strained to catch up. Menges managed to press Hayes a bit wide as they approached the Portland box. Boureille joined a double-team on Hayes, which left two Sky Blue players unmarked in the box. Fortunately, the double-team worked and Hayes was unable to make a pass.
Just a minute later, it was Portland’s turn as the game began to open up with Lindsey Horan missing wide left on a long shot. Then with the clock at 18:49 Nadia Nadim got open at midfield and was cut down by Kayla Mills. The referee, Marco Vega of 2016 semifinal match fame, gave Mills a yellow card for what looked on replay to be a run-of-the-mill foul. In any case, the free kick was correctly awarded and Sky Blue paid the price. Nadim sent in a perfect 50-yard ball to the far side of the Sky Blue 6-yard box. Lindsey Horan launched herself for a diving header that powered the ball into upper near-side netting. It’s nominated for Goal of the Week, and rightly so.
In the 32nd minute, Portland was in on goal again. This time Nadim was alone with the goal keeper to beat, but made a weak pass attempt instead of shooting. Two minutes after that came Sky Blue’s best chance of the game. Emily Menges got caught upfield as she stabbed at a pass and missed, letting Sam Kerr in alone on Franch. Kerr’s shot was off target to the great relief of everyone in red.
In the 41st minute came what proved to the last scoring of the night during a fine spell of possession by the Thorns. Celeste Boureille did very well to beat her marker to the end line and attract most of the Sky Blue defense to their left. Nadim passed to ball to the opposite side where Meghan Klingenberg took it in stride and centered an excellent cross hard and low at the top of the 6-yard box. Lindsey Horan was on the spot to poke it over the diving Kailen Sheridan and into the roof of the net. I believe every Thorn except Menges and Sonnett touched ball in this sequence.
In first-half stoppage time, the Thorns nearly added another as a long ball from Franch was flicked on by Sinclair to Nadim. Nadia carried it into the box and gave Sinclair a good pass. Mallory Weber was completely alone to Sinclair’s left, but unfortunately the captain was unable to corral the ball to make the pass. Seconds later Mr. Vega’s whistle blew and the Thorns headed to the locker room all hugs and smiles.
The second half saw the Thorns become progressively more defensive as there were many more saves by Franch than shots by Thorns attackers. The 48th, Franch stoned Kelly O’Hara with an excellent kick save. In the 55th came the moment of the match as AD cleanly saved Sarah Killion’s penalty kick attempt. The penalty award was probably correct as Mallory Weber got tangled with a diving Rodriguez. Sky Blue fans were howling for another penalty call as Klingenberg and O’Hara tussled while clearing the PK save rebound. Both officials had a good look and weren’t interested.
Franch’s only real error of the night came in the 57th minute when she charged out to capture a long entry pass but was beaten to it by Hayes whose chip attempt was just wide of the net. Ten minutes later AD redeemed herself with another solid save on McKenzie Meehan’s close-range header.
Allie Long was playing with some type of stomach bug. Apparently she had vomited after the pregame warmup but insisted on playing anyway. In the 62nd minute she was subbed off for Meghan Cox. As Long walked to the sideline, she looked very uncomfortable. Reports are that Mallory Weber had the same problem, although she looked better when she came off in the 66th for Dagny.
Both subs had their moments. Cox was given a yellow card for a perfectly clean tackle that should not have been whistled a foul.
And Dagny has a chance to nail the door shut late as Nadim put a perfect cross to her foot but she fluffed the attempted volley. Some rust is to be expected after such a long layoff.
One last fine save from Franch in the second minute of stoppage time ensured the clean sheet and the three points. Here’s hoping Sky Blue proves to be as docile when we see them again in a couple weeks.
By Richard Hamje
Video editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje