Thorns Take It Up a Notch against Boston Breakers
The Portland Thorns landed a road win this week, shutting out the Boston Breakers 1-0 in their most put-together performance thus far. Our takeaways from the game:
1. The attack is starting to gel .
In contrast with their first two games, where the Thorns were slow to come off the blocks and conceded first-half goals before scoring, Portland went on the offensive early and often this week. The team is starting to communicate in a way we hadn’t seen before Sunday, putting together smart, fluid passing plays and getting plenty of balls into the box. For the first time, the Thorns began to look like a real team instead of an overachieving pickup group.
Getting a win in Boston at this early stage was crucial for Portland, which has had an abysmal record on the road in past seasons. It’s true that the Breakers are the lowest-performing team in the league, but they didn’t look bad on Sunday, just outmatched. Still, although they got almost as many shots on goal as the Thorns, the overall feeling was that this was Portland’s game from the starting whistle.
2. The whole roster pulled their weight.
Despite the Thorns’ stupidly stacked starting roster, the last two games have largely been the Tobin Heath/Lindsey Horan show. Though you wouldn’t know it from the score sheet—Heath notched her fourth assist, meaning she’s still set up 100 percent of the team’s goals to date—that started to change this weekend, when almost everyone on the field got involved in pressing the attack at some point.
Katherine Reynolds, making her first start this season in place of an injured Kat Williamson, was a brick wall at right back and contributed to several promising attacks. Center back Emily Sonnett gave us a glimpse of blazing speed and substantial skill on the ball in a slick run even the home crowd was impressed by. And gutsy defender Meghan Klingenberg put in her best performance for the Thorns to date, which included firing off this bullet of a shot in the 64th minute, impressively deflected by rookie goalkeeper Abby Smith. The roster clearly has some depth—and that’s with captain Christine Sinclair injured and French powerhouse Amandine Henry yet to arrive.
3. The officiating really needs work.
The end of this game was, to put it mildly, a hot mess. Just forty-four seconds into what was supposed to be two minutes of stoppage time, referee Brandon Artis blew the whistle and everyone—players, fans, and an understandably frustrated Boston coach—thought the game was over. Except after a chat with a sideline official, Artis changed his mind, seemingly mansplaining a special, alternate meaning of three long whistles to the players. Everyone stood around confused for a few minutes before Portland was eventually able to make a late substitution.
If that spectacle of incompetence wasn’t enough, Artis missed several potentially important calls. In the 24th minute, Boston defender McCall Zerboni, in a passable Karate Kid impression, swept Heath’s leg from behind inside the 18-yard box. Heath stayed down, probably because she was expecting a penalty kick. Inexplicably, no foul was called.
Then, in the 78th minute, Breakers defender Julie King grappled Klingenberg to the ground a good two feet inside the penalty box. Both teams were lining up for a penalty kick when Artis ruled it a free kick instead. Fortunately, karma is real, and Dagny Brynjarsdottir got on the end of Heath’s beautifully curled free kick for a goal.
Perhaps most head-scratchingly, the post-game stats show Heath received a caution in stoppage time. Due to the late-game chaos, the commentators didn’t even notice—blink and you’ll miss it when Artis shows a yellow to… someone. I’ve watched the last three minutes of the game five times and I can’t find the supposed foul.
Although it’s worked out in their favor, this is the second week in a row the Thorns have been in situations where the outcome of the game potentially hinged on bad calls. We feel you, visibly frustrated Tobin Heath.
Had to. #NWSL pic.twitter.com/3wC0dXpYMe— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) May 1, 2016
The Thorns take on the Washington Spirit Saturday, May 7. Their next home game is 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21.