PORTLAND — The Portland Thorns were in position Sunday to start a defining stretch of their schedule with a victory.
Instead, the Thorns were left to rue missed opportunities after the Chicago Red Stars scored twice in the final 19 minutes to earn a 3-3 draw in front of 12,534 fans at Jeld-Wen Field.
With five games left in the regular season, Portland (9-4-4, 31 points) is in a tight battle with league-leading FC Kansas City (10-4-5, 35 points) and Sky Blue FC (9-5-4, 31 points) for first place. Both of those teams visit Jeld-Wen Field in the coming week, but a win Sunday would have helped the Thorns cause.
“The three points was definitely there for the taking. It’s a little bit frustrating,” said Thorns midfielder Tobin Heath, who assisted on two Christine Sinclair goals. “We should have done better, especially towards the end of the game.”
Sinclair scored in the 23rd minute, her first goal in nine matches. And, when she scored again in the 62nd minute to put Portland ahead 3-1, it looked like the Thorns would escape the physical contest as victors.
But Alyssa Mautz, who replaced injured Lori Chalupny early in the match, scored her second of the day in the 75th minute for Chicago (6-7-5, 23 points).
And when Portland struggled to clear the ball in the 86th minute, Julianne Sitch took advantage with a shot from just inside the penalty area.
Even with twice gaining two-goal leads in the second half — Mana Shim’s finish off an Alex Morgan pass put Portland ahead 2-0 in the 55th minute — the Thorns could never establish control of play. The Red Stars’ physical style and desperate need for goals kept the game at a frenetic tempo.
“We were trying to possess more. I thought we did a decent job of that. But Chicago plays a very disruptive style,” Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. “They’re very physical, they play a lot of long balls, so it’s hard at times to get a rhythm against them because of their style of play.”
Heath, who said she was sorry for her reckless foul 15 minutes into the match that sent Chalupny to the sidelines, said the Thorns could have played with more poise late in the match.
“We made it a battle out there when we should have put the ball on the ground and played a bit more, played through them,” Heath said. “But they’re just an extremely disruptive team that has nothing to lose, so that’s difficult to play against. But we have to figure out a way to impose our style rather than just making it a battle out there.”
Sinclair had been without a goal since May 25, going eight games without scoring. Her drought ended in the 23rd minute when she volleyed the ball past Chicago goalkeeper Erin McLeod.
The play started with Heath and Sinclair standing over a free kick from 28 yards in front of goal. Sinclair told Heath to chip the ball over the defense, then Sinclair surprised the Red Stars defense by running free into the box.
Sinclair returned the favor a few minutes later, sending a cross from the right wing to a wide-open Heath. But McLeod stood her ground, blocking the close-range chance with her arm and face.
That was the first of a series of great chances that Portland did not convert.
Early in the second half, Heath and Sinclair both misfired on golden scoring chances, and Morgan had a shot miss from inside the 18.
“We had a lot of chances,” Parlow Cone said. “We should have had four, five, or six today, and we put in three. Three should have been good enough, but it wasn’t today because Chicago kept fighting back and fought hard.”
The Thorns only have two more chances to play at home this season. Sky Blue FC is in Portland on Wednesday, then FC Kansas City visits next Sunday.
With three road games to finish Portland’s regular season, this week’s results will factor into whether or not Thorns fans see their team at home in the playoffs.