PORTLAND — Many members of the Portland Thorns FC left Jeld-Wen Field on Saturday upbeat and encouraged after the team played one of its strongest halves of the season against the Boston Breakers.
For the first time, forward Christine Sinclair felt connected with teammate Alex Morgan as the two created chances in the second half that might build momentum for the rest of the season.
However, that inspiring ending came too late as Portland could not recover from its first-half miscues in the 2-0 loss in front of an announced crowd of 12,436.
Boston’s Sydney Leroux, the leading scorer of the National Women’s Soccer League, torched the Thorns for two goals in the opening 39 minutes. Despite Portland pinning 14 shots on goal through the second half and 20 overall, the Thorns (8-4-2) were shut out 2-0 for the second consecutive game.
“We finally saw what we were capable of doing,” Portland head coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t put a goal in the back of the net but other than that, I thought we did a lot of things really well.”
Portland played on Saturday without Australian forward Kyah Simon, who was with her national team — a common theme through this inaugural season of NWSL. Several players have dipped in and out of the lineup due to international team duty, but for the most part, the Thorns have overcome the interruptions.
Entering Saturday’s match, the Thorns had the second-best record in the league and the top goal defense by allowing 11 goals in 13 games. However, in the first half, Portland’s defense uncharacteristically presented gaps to the Boston attack. Before the 11th minute, goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc had to stay on her toes for several brushes until Boston completely broke through.
Breakers midfielder Heather O’Reilly centered a pass away from two Portland defenders and found Leroux who chased down the ball and snuck it through LeBlanc on the left side.
Then in the 39th minute, Leroux outraced Thorns defender Kathryn Williamson for roughly 20 yards, and beat LeBlanc to the bottom right corner of the net.
“It’s tough (and) it’s hard, it makes you want to analyze and sometimes mess with your confidence,” defender Rachel Buehler said about the unit allowing two goals for the second straight match, “but I also think we need to continue to work and build off our mistakes.”
Through the second half, the Thorns neutralized Leroux and created plenty of their own scoring opportunities. Even in the 85th minute as the Thorns faithful continued to chant and cheer, Morgan pushed ahead and reached within five yards of the Boston net, but Breakers goalie Alyssa Naeher blocked the attempt to close the shutout with seven saves.
“I found us connecting more than we have in the past,” Sinclair said about her pairing with Morgan. “Playing up top for a first time in a while and just being close to Alex. Every time we received the ball, we were looking for each other and that’s something that really hasn’t happened so far this season.”
Sinclair continued: “(I’m) very disappointed with our first half. We knew they had a lot of pace up top and we let them burn us twice. And then the second half, we were a different team. We completely dominated but couldn’t find the back of the net. As an attacking player, it’s when you’re not creating chances that you start to worry. So seeing the chances that we created in the second half, gives me a lot of hope for the upcoming games.”