PORTLAND – Sky Blue FC has been one of the least productive teams this National Women’s Soccer League season — except when the team from New Jersey is at Providence Park.
For the second time this season the Portland Thorns owned possession against Sky Blue. But for the second time in as many visits to Portland, it was Sky Blue claiming the victory – this time 2-1.
An early strike from distance and a second-half free kick provided two goals for Sky Blue, which entered play on Wednesday having scored a league-worst 14 goals through 14 games. Sky Blue (3-6-6, 15 points) also won at Portland 1-0 on May 24.
The Thorns (6-5-2) fell to 3-4 in home matches this season, a trend that mirrors last season when they had to win two playoff games away from Portland to win the NWSL title. Portland also missed chance to move ahead of Chicago and into third place.
Lindsi Cutshall’s goal in the 64th minute was the difference. She was able to beat several Thorns defenders to a free kick from Jonelle Filigno and got enough of the ball with her head to direct it inside the right post.
“Cutshall was pretty open, so I think there was probably some sort of breakdown,” Thorns defender Rachel Van Hollebeke said. “But I’m not entirely sure in the moment what went on there. We’ll have to look at that and figure that out.”
Thorns coach Paul Riley said his team practiced defending the play that beat them, but didn’t execute that defense.
“We had great momentum at that point. … To give that away just took the stuffing out of us,” Riley said.
The Thorns, who dominated possession and outshot the visitors 18-7 (6-3 on goal), saw three good stoppage-time chances miss. Alex Morgan missed the target once and had another chance deflected just wide by Sky Blue goalkeeper Brittany Cameron. And Van Hollebeke had a shot from 10 yards that sailed high.
“I think the goals are smaller at home. They’ve got to be smaller at home,” Riley quipped.
Actually, the Thorns credited Cameron for a great effort in goal. In addition to her five saves, Riley said she did well handling the ball in wet conditions.
“We lacked a little composure, I think, in the penalty box,” Riley said. “We had four or five clear-cut chances the last 10 minutes really to get back in the game and didn’t get it done.”
Christine Sinclair did finish a chance in the 54th minute, tying the match at 1-1. Sinclair redirected a ball from Veronica Boquete into the open goal after Boquete dibbled into the left side of the penalty area after a quick throw-in. It was Sinclair’s third goal of the season.
Riley said he liked his team’s effort, and couldn’t fault much of the performance. But he would like to see the Thorns give Boquete space to create with the ball at her feet.
“The tendency is still to go help Vero. She doesn’t need any help,” Riley said. “Leave her alone. Get away from her, let her do her thing and then see if we can get into the final third of the field where we can do some damage.”
The Thorns are 6-0 when they score first and winless when they don’t. On Wednesday, they fell behind on a quirky play in the eighth minute. Thorns midfielder Allie Long lost the ball in the middle of the field. With goalkeeper Nadine Angerer near the top of the 18-yard box, Katy Freels launched a shot from about 40 yards that floated over the reach of the scrambling Angerer and under the cross bar.
“They score a goal like they did tonight and all of a sudden you’re losing and you don’t know how,” Sinclair said.
Scoring early was the difference between Wednesday’s loss and Saturday’s 6-1 win at Washington, Sinclair said.
“The longer we don’t score, maybe the more frustrated we get and the more the other team thinks they’re in the game,” Sinclair said
Scoring the first goal could be critical on Saturday, when the Thorns play second-place FC Kansas City on the road – their third match in eight days with travel to and from Maryland and Kansas City.