Sunday afternoon, the Thorns crushed the Boston Breakers 5-1, their biggest win of the season thus far with the final weeks upon us. Three things to ponder on:
1. On paper, this was the Thorns’ biggest win of the season.
Following a disjointed first few minutes that saw the Thorns give the Breakers several chances in and around the box, Portland’s newest bronze medalist, Canada captain Christine Sinclair, scored in the 14th minute—an easy tap in off a Nadia Nadim corner kick—and from there, it was our game. Portland ran roughshod over a hapless Boston, attacking relentlessly and stymying their possession in the midfield.
The Breakers conceded a penalty off a handball in the 40th minute, slotted home by a cool-as-ice Nadim. The scoring picked right back up in the second half, with Allie Long putting away a low cross from the right by Sinc in the 48th minute. By the 79th minute, Long practically strolled past three Breakers defenders to give Nadim a one-on-one chance against keeper Libby Stout for her second goal.
Boston got one back in the 84th minute, a Julie King header on a set piece. But Portland, as usual, kept the urgency up. In extra time, Tobin Heath juked the Breakers’ Louise Schillgard to get off a bullet of a shot; Stout did well to save it, but Nadim, flinging herself goalward, got her head on the rebound to make it 5-1.
2. Nadia Nadim is on fire again.
Nadim has had some consistency issues over the course of the season. She’s Portland’s leading scorer, and has had some clutch moments, but she can be frustrating to watch. At times, including last week against Seattle, she’s been just as likely to lose possession or make timid back-passes as push for goals.
Sunday night, she demanded an apology from anyone who’s doubted her ability as a top-class forward. She notched a hat trick—just the second in team history—and also nabbed her second assist of the season. She played with the cool, confidence, and swagger of a woman who feels she deserves goals.
“She’s deadly in front of goal when given the chance,” said Sinclair after the game. Let’s hope she keeps getting chances.
3. Portland can and should play better.
Despite the scoreline, the Thorns didn’t look as good as they have at times. The first 15 minutes were downright sloppy; they got away with some very lax defending on a couple of occasions because of unforced errors by Breakers players. Later on, there were moments where Boston simply looked too tired to put up much of a fight. A better team—and one that hadn’t played a game four days before and then flown across the country—might well have capitalized on one of the early chances they got.
“The result and the scoreline is very different,” said head coach Mark Parsons after the game, comparing the night with last week’s loss in Seattle, “but we didn’t jump five paces. I think we took one or two paces forward today.” To be sure, there were moments where the Thorns looked verifiably good: Nadim and Raso were both dangerous up top, and between Long, Sinclair, and Horan, the midfield started to click nicely as the game wore on. The defense, too, looked like their old selves later in the game. But there were still too many careless passes and bad turnovers for a team this talented.
When the season started, the big question was whether the Thorns could cope with what’s been a pretty constant fluctuation in the starting lineup, with the number of national team players who are here one week and gone the next. Sitting in second place in the league, they’ve obviously coped. One has to wonder, though, how much better this team could have been without that shifting lineup. If they’d been able to build steam steadily throughout the season, the way Seattle or Washington have, if they were really firing on all cylinders right now, what would that have looked like?
Sinclair summed it up: “We play either very well or pretty poorly,” she said. “We just need to increase our consistency, and we have a chance to do that with two more home games in the span of five days.”