PORTLAND — There was a lot to love about the Portland Thorns FC shows at Jeld-Wen Field this season.
Which made parting with their supporters on a losing note Sunday sting the Thorns that much more.
With first place in the National Women’s Soccer League on the line, the league’s hottest team beat its most popular 3-2 in front of a season-high audience of 17,619.
“I’ve never played in front of anything like this week in and week out,” Thorns defender Rachel Buehler said, expressing gratitude for the postgame cheers from fans after an emotional loss. “That kind of dedication and passion that they have is so awesome. It just makes us want to win for them that much more, which is why it’s even harder when we lose at home.”
Sunday’s result pushed FC Kansas City (11-4-5) four points ahead of Portland (10-5-4) in the chase for first place in the NWSL standings. Portland has three games left, all on the road. Kansas City has two to play, meaning the Thorns can still finish first and earn home-field advantage for two potential playoff games.
But, for all the energy that the Thorns pull from the league’s largest crowds, they have been far less efficient at home than away from home. Portland finished with five wins, four losses and two draws in its 11 home matches. Opponents scored 17 times at Jeld-Wen Field. By contrast, the Thorns have only been scored against five times in eight matches away from home.
“I don’t know if I can explain why we’ve been able to get wins away and not here,” said Danielle Foxhoven, who along with Alex Morgan scored for Portland on Sunday. “Maybe other teams feel like when they come here they want to dislodge us at home.”
There is also the natural desire for the Thorns to use the energy from their fans to attack, which at times left Portland out of position for opposing counter-attacks. That certainly was the case against Kansas City. And against the league’s top offense, it was double costly as Lauren (Cheney) Holiday scored twice to take the league lead with 12 goals, and Kristie Mewis scored from distance to put the visitors ahead 3-1 in the 73rd minute.
“Unfortunately, we turned over the ball in spaces where our shape was spread out and we shouldn’t have turned the ball over,” Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. “We’ve got to get better at that.”
Three opportunistic KC goals were too much for Portland, even with the Thorns outshooting the visitors 17-10 and earning seven corner kicks to only one for Kansas City. In two visits to Portland, FC Kansas City scored six times, though Portland prevailed 4-3 back in June.
Holiday’s 23rd-minute goal had Kansas City ahead at halftime.
Portland came out flying early in the second half. In the 47th minute, Christine Sinclair was run over while trying to shoot inside the penalty area. It looked like a penalty kick was deserved, but none came from referee John McCloskey.
Foxhoven scored in the 51st minute off a corner kick when Buehler’s shot attempt fell at Foxhoven’s feet. The tie lasted less than three minutes, as a beautiful passing sequence between Holiday and Erika Tymrak up the middle of the field beat a scrambling defense.
“They’re a very talented team and they’re doing a great job of counter attacking against us, and we’re not doing a good enough job of defending that,” Parlow Cone said.
An 89th-minute goal from Morgan and five minutes of extra time energized the crowd for a memorable finish. But it wasn’t to be.
“It’s kind of in my stomach,” Foxhoven said, describing the pain of this defeat. “Losing never feels good, especially in front of 17,000 fans and against the first-place team who I think we were better than a lot of the game today.”
Timbers Reserves lose — Tommy Heinemann scored two goals, including an 86th-minute penalty kick, to lift the Vancouver Whitecaps FC to a 3-2 win over the Portland Timbers in a MLS Reserve League match on Sunday at Jeld-Wen Field.
Jose Valencia and Rauwshan McKenzie scored for Portland (4-3-2) — Valencia on a 52nd-minute penalty kick after he was fouled, and McKenzie off a cross from Sal Zizzo that tied the score 2-2 in the 81st minute.
Heinemann scored his first goal less than a minute after Valencia’s penalty kick gave Portland a 1-0 lead. Erik Hurtado, who played for the Timbers U23s while in college at Santa Clara, put Vancouver ahead in the 56th minute.
Three Camas High School students and Timbers Youth Academy players saw action for the Timbers reserves. Jacob Kempf played the whole match and Anthony Macchione and Niko De Vera each entered in the 61st minute.