Portland Pays a Heavy Price for a Point on the Road

Tobin Heath was sent off as the Thorns battled the Washington Spirit to a scoreless draw. Read on for our three takeaways from the weekend's game.

By Katelyn Best May 10, 2016

Portlandthorns hz1m87

Meghan Klingenberg defends the Thorns for a scoreless draw. 

Image: ISI Photos

The Thorns played the top-ranked Washington Spirit to a hard-fought scoreless draw Saturday in a tense, physical match that saw midfielder Tobin Heath get sent off. Our three takeaways:

1. Portland was lucky to come away with a draw

Washington came out of the gates at blistering speed, knocking on the door relentlessly for the first 30 minutes of the game. Frighteningly quick forward Crystal Dunn got the best of Portland’s back line time and time again, and making matters worse the Thorns looked almost complacent at times, both on and off the ball.

More than once in the first half, Portland players handed the ball to the Spirit on a silver platter, making reckless passes and letting Dunn get deep into dangerous territory. Dunn might be the scariest forward in the league, and too often, Portland didn’t seem to be taking her seriously. Fortunately, backup keeper Adrianna Franch protected the goal like her life depended on it. It was largely thanks to Franch—and no small measure of crazy luck—that the Thorns kept a clean sheet.

By halftime, the pace slowed considerably. Portland settled in and was able to maintain possession more effectively. But even then, and despite tallying a ridiculous 10 corner kicks, they couldn’t best the Spirit’s Ali Krieger-led back line. On the other hand, a draw against this Washington team, especially on their home turf, isn’t nothing—Portland is the first team to (somehow) hold them scoreless this season.

2. The Thorns have a problem at forward

Four weeks in, it’s getting hard not to notice that the Thorns have a gaping hole up front. Both of their road goals have come on set pieces, and midfielders Lindsey Horan and Dagny Brynjarsdottir have been the only players to score so far. Pretty consistently, when a ball is played into the box, it feels like nobody up front is even paying attention.

Notably absent from the attack has been Danish forward Nadia Nadim. Nadim hasn’t been playing convincingly since preseason, when she scored a hat trick against OSU: an obvious Gryffindor, she consistently tries to dribble through defenders when a clear pass is available, and has attempted her share of borderline reckless tackles. More than anything, though, her poor movement off the ball has meant she just isn’t there when she needs to be.

Nadim can be a quality player: she was tied with Samantha Kerr as Sky Blue FC’s leading goal scorer last year. Clearly, she needs work to click with this team. Getting captain Christine Sinclair back—reportedly in the next few weeks—will also help. Until then, the team needs to figure out how to link Nadim up with their monstrously talented midfield.

3. Portland paid a heavy price

The big story from this game, of course, is Tobin Heath’s send-off—for angrily spiking the ball after she was called on a clear foul, no less—late in the game. Dunn turned on the afterburners after Heath’s ejection, and it was sheer luck that kept her from scoring in stoppage time. Heath, as previously documented, has had some moments of visible frustration all season, many of them justified. But the two infractions that led to her ejection Saturday were pretty inexcusable: her initial yellow, bizarrely, was for running at Krieger before she got a free kick off.

I don’t want to speculate about what she was thinking in either moment; suffice it to say that this is a bad look for any player, let alone one who’s been entrusted with the captain’s armband. On Twitter, Thorns owner Merritt Paulson spun this into a demonstration of how much Heath cares about getting results for this team. Let’s be clear—passion is one thing. Getting needlessly ejected from a game is another.

Heath, when she’s on, is breathtakingly good, and she’s been in the best form of her career. The Thorns need her right now. They go on the road to Seattle next week, and her absence is going to hurt going up against Kim Little and company. Let’s hope Portland gets her back in full form when they face Washington again at home.

The Thorns take on the Seattle Reign on the road Sunday, May 1, at 7 p.m. Their next home game is against the Washington Spirit Saturday, May 21, at 7 p.m.

Filed under
Show Comments