It’s not often that teams will lift a coveted trophy a week ahead of kicking off their regular season. It’s also not often that the team will open up the season with an offensive masterclass accompanied by a shutout for their goaltender. But that was the reality for the Portland Thorns who, just seven days after raising the Challenge Cup, netted five goals against Chicago in what was a masterclass of a game in all three zones.
With Portland holding 59% of the possession, it would have been incredibly easy for the backline to have switched off due to boredom and let one slip through. Instead, they were the metronome throughout the entire ninety minutes, setting the pace of the game to accompany their aggressive offense.
The first half was a fast paced affair, with four of the Thorns’ five goals coming within the opening half hour. Meghan Klingenberg wreaked havoc as usual, this time playing out of the fullback position. Her versatility and ability to launch counterattacks allowed Portland to maintain their ferocious first half pace.
With the win all but secured, the Portland backline came out for the second half determined to calm the game immediately and provide absolutely no hope for the Red Stars. The team’s ability to go from a rip roaring offense to a settled and structured unit without missing a beat is a testament to not only their talent, but also the way Marc Parsons has coached the group. The way they can effectively turn on a dime should strike fear into any opponent, as they showed the ability to lock the door to their own box and throw away the key once they considered the job done.
Both teams played a 4-3-3 scheme, making the midfield a crowded and hard fought battle, but one that the Thorns accepted head on. With the likes of Lindsey Horan, Rocky Rodriguez, and Crystal Dunn manning the middle of the park for the Thorns, it’s no wonder that the team was able to string together 495 passes and 22 shots on net, with much of the critical work being woven through the trio.
Rodriguez is one of the most criminally under-appreciated players in this league, which seems to be fine with her. Her proficiency as a midfield pivot seems to increase game after game, yet few are taking notice, perhaps allowing her slip under the opposing defender’s radar. One thing remains clear though, if a team wants to take down the Thorns, they’re going to have to figure out how to deal with Rodriguez, and the rest of the Thorns’ midfield.
When you put up five goals, is there much to say about the team’s offensive prowess? Probably not, but allow me to try something…
Sophia Smith has the potential to push for Christine Sinclair levels of excellence within the NWSL and potentially beyond. In a game where Sinclair became the third player in league history to reach 50 regular season goals, Smith netted two beautiful goals of her own. When the youngster wasn’t scoring, she was putting in the work defensively and just doing what she could to make life miserable for Chicago. If game one is to be any indication, Smith is in for a monster year; not only does she have incredible skill, she also has the intangibles, the un-coachables if you will, of grit, work ethic, and the smarts to be a (AHEM) thorn in opponents’ sides for years to come.
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