The Portland Thorns suffered their second loss of the season on Saturday, a massive 3-0 collapse against the Houston Dash on the road. So what went wrong? Read our three takeaways from the game:
1. Portland barely put up a fight.
After a few near-chances by Portland in the opening minutes of the game, the Dash put home a goal in the seventh minute, and it was their game from that point on. Houston, sitting in second-to-last place in the league, hadn’t scored a goal since May 7, and the Thorns made it easy for them.
Unlike last week, when Portland came out stronger in the second half, the Thorns looked, if anything, more deflated and ineffectual after the half. Houston’s second goal came on a corner—the Dash got eight corner kicks to Portland’s four—after nobody could quite clear the ball from a dangerous area, and Becca Moros nailed a long pass to the feet of Amber Brooks.
By the Dash’s third goal, which came in the run of play, the Thorns looked like a team that had given up. Portland put up no real fight as Houston’s Kealia Ohai streaked down the left side, Jennifer Skogerboe in particular looking like she’d already resigned herself to getting beaten.
2. This team was even more depleted than before.
The lineup Mark Parsons fielded Saturday night had a look of desperation, like Parsons frantically bailing water from a sinking boat as his players vanish one by one.
Portland’s midfield, missing Dagny Brynjarsdottir on top of the long list of Olympic call-ups, looked utterly hollowed-out, with Mana Shim and Celeste Boureille playing in the center. Boureille has done well in recent games, but neither her touch nor her vision was up to the task of replacing Lindsey Horan. As for Shim—we all love Shim, but she simply doesn’t fit naturally in a defensive midfield role.
With the midfield gutted, Houston broke up Portland possessions again and again. Unable to hold onto the ball in midfield, the Thorns’ only attempts at attacking—they took six shots to Houston’s 16—came on long direct balls, and Nadia Nadim and Hayley Raso mostly looked flustered and out of sorts as they tried to convert. Raso is young, though not as young as she looked; Nadim, who is not as green, can and should do much better.
The defense looked uncharacteristically disorganized, suffering repeated breakdowns as the likes of Kealia Ohai and Rachel Daly got into the box at will. Michelle Betos had a good game, with five saves. Emily Menges, though, was once again the hero. The center back, one of just five regular starters on the field, did all the dirty work in the Thorns’ defensive third, personally halting Houston’s onslaught more than a few times.
3. They have their work cut out for them in two weeks.
The Thorns don’t play next weekend, and this lineup will certainly be grateful for an extra week of practice. On the 30th, they face the Seattle Reign for the third time this season.
While Seattle is a far cry, this year, from the powerhouse of the past, they’re looking better as the season wears on—especially since bringing on two Japanese internationals, Nahomi Kawasumi (Naho to friends) and Rumi Utsugi. Naho is skilled and experienced, with a buttery-smooth touch, and with Seattle, she has three goals in as many games.
The last time these two teams met, at the end of May, Portland managed to shut Seattle out. They also had Christine Sinclair for a half, and Meg Morris at full back, who, in terms of speed, has a whole gear that Skogerboe doesn’t.
Hopefully, the extra week of rest and preparation will give Kat Williamson time to build some more strength. And if things go according to plan, the Thorns will have Brynjarsdottir back, who can help both as a playmaker and an attacking threat. Finally, playing at home, especially against Seattle, always helps. But they’re still going to be putting a roster filled out with amateurs against a nearly full-strength Reign. If there’s any real reason for optimism, it’s that this pre-Olympic chapter will be over soon.
The Thorns play Seattle at home at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 30.