PORTLAND — The record crowd that turned up on Wednesday at Providence Park got to cheer their Women’s World Cup heroes in pregame ceremonies that included a salute to Portland fans from Alex Morgan.
But the 21,144 fans did not get to cheer any goals from their Portland Thorns as Seattle used a second-half goal from Kim Little to beat Portland 1-0.
The crowd was a NWSL record, and the result was clearly disappointing and frustrating to the Thorns, who face an uphill climb to reach the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs.
“To lay an egg on a game when you got that many people is tough. It’s a tough one for everyone to swallow, and you could see the disappointment in the group,” Thorns coach Paul Riley said.
The win keeps Seattle (7-3-3) one point behind league-leading Chicago. Portland fell to 3-5-4 and remains five points back of the fourth playoff spot with eight matches left. The Thorns visit Seattle on Sunday for a 4 p.m. rematch, then must travel to Western New York for a game next Wednesday.
“We’ve got to go to Seattle and win for (the fans),” Riley said.
The Thorns have three remaining home games. They host Boston on Aug. 5 and Chicago on Aug. 9. Their final home match is Aug. 30 against the Washington Spirit.
In a match in which both teams were solid defensively, it took a moment of individual initiative to deliver a goal. Little provided it in the 57th minute, working her way inside the 18-yard box on the dribble and scoring from near the penalty spot.
The Thorns’ best chance was a Christine Sinclair header in the 68th minute that forced Reign goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer to react quickly to knock the ball over the top of the goal. But for most of the match Seattle’s organized defense prevented the Thorns from creating an attack.
“We just don’t seem to be able to create enough chances. We weren’t dynamic enough in the final third,” Riley said.
The fans were treated to several one-on-one battles between the Thorns’ Tobin Heath and Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe, and both members of the United States’ World Cup championship team were appreciative of the huge turnout.
“It’s not surprising. The fans here are super special,” Heath said.
Rapinoe, who was cheered even when she was replaced late in the match with the Reign ahead, said she didn’t feel like an opposing player on Wednesday.
“It’s special for us to be recognized like that in front of such a huge crowd, but also one that is so intelligent about football,” said Rapinoe, who played for the University of Portland. “The fans are so smart here and come out in droves so it’s pretty cool to have that.”
The biggest moments of the night for Portland came before the match.
Pregame ceremonies recognized the nine Thorns players who played in the Women’s World Cup. Three members of the United States championship team then were recognized as Heath, Rapinoe and injured Alex Morgan were introduced to the crowd. Injured Seattle goalkeeper Hope Solo was not at the match.
Morgan, who is recovering from minor knee surgery and did not play, then spoke. She thanked the Portland fans for their amazing support week in and week out, calling them the best fans anywhere for club and for country.
While the Thorns’ immediate future is a challenging road trip, the longer-range questions will revolve around whether or not a crowd like the one that showed up on Wednesday can inspire other NWSL clubs to grow their audience.
Rapinoe said the momentum from the World Cup victory should continue at least through the rest of this NWSL season. She said the clubs and players must educate fans who got behind the national team about the NWSL.
“I think people totally got attached to this World Cup in a different way than they have,” she said. “American fans know that they can go watch these players in their own cities for the rest of the season. So hopefully the bounce isn’t coming down, it’s just continuing to go up.”