Thorns Pull Off a Draw—with a Caveat
Portland eked out a tie on the road Saturday against FC Kansas City. Once again, the team’s performance was by turns sloppy and brilliant. Here are our takeaways from the game—and one from elsewhere in the league.
1. Much like last week, it was a mixed bag.
Not unexpectedly, Lindsey Horan and Allie Long carried a lot of weight for the team, with Horan scoring the team’s only goal off a Tobin Heath corner kick. Long was in fine form on both sides of the ball, and the two midfielders together provided much of the team’s offensive momentum.
Keeper and local hero Michelle Betos saved a Kansas City penalty kick in thrilling fashion, getting just enough of the ball to knock it to the post.
But once again, the team had its fair share of missed connections, sloppy turnovers, and lackadaisical defending. The Emilies—Sonnett and Menges, Portland’s dual center backs—looked strong, but at times they could have used more support from their teammates.
The Thorns started to gel more after halftime. Beyond individual heroics by the likes of Heath and Long, we saw some tidy passing and a handful of promising near-chances—but even near the end of the game, there were moments where the team clearly wasn’t quite on the same wavelength. And despite beginning to look like the squad they want to be, there’s a big asterisk next to this draw.
2. They tied because of a Kansas City red card.
In the first half, forward Shea Groom was Kansas City’s offensive engine, giving Portland’s defense fits with her physicality and impressive speed. Groom took almost as many shots as the rest of her team combined, all in the first half—and she only stopped shooting because she was ejected from the game two minutes into the second.
Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski complained after the game about the pair of yellows Groom was shown, saying, “the first card was definitely not a card,” and noting that the second foul was only called after Portland players complained to the referee. He may have a point. Groom’s second foul probably did merit a card: she came in studs up, sliding into both Betos and Sonnett, and it’s not totally clear what she was planning to do with the ball. I’m less convinced about the initial yellow. It’s obviously a foul, but it also looks purely inertia-related; the tackle itself was clean.
In any case, it’s hard to argue the result didn’t have a lot to do with the red. It’s not quite that the numerical advantage gave Portland more space, nor, I think, is it the physical toll on Kansas City from being a woman down for nearly a full half—though both were surely factors. The major significance is simply that with Groom, the Blues lost all their firepower. Kansas City got just two shots off in the second half, compared with seven in the first.
3. Meanwhile, in Orlando...
In their first home game, the Orlando Pride broke Portland’s attendance record, playing for 23,403 fans in the Citrus Bowl. Until this weekend, no NWSL team outside of Portland had average attendance above 6,500. Watching Orlando play at home felt like watching the Thorns at home: the stadium, stream quality, and commentary left no doubt we were seeing a top-tier professional game.
Switching to the Kansas City live-stream was a harsh reminder that the rest of the country, for whatever reason, still treats this league like minor-league baseball. As fans in Orlando filled the bottom tier of a real stadium to cheer on Alex Morgan and company, fans in Kansas City were treated to an inexplicable halftime spectacle involving two Minions, an assortment of furries, and “various Star Wars characters” playing soccer.
In Orlando, the NWSL seems to have a second team with a serious fanbase and an organization with the means to give players the respect they deserve. Let’s hope that success continues.
The Thorns take on the Boston Breakers at home Sunday, May 1, at 2 pm. Their next home game is Saturday, May 21, at 7 pm.