TACOMA — Christine Sinclair didn’t need flash Saturday.
Two clinical penalty kicks was all it took to help her Portland Thorns FC defeat the OL Reign 2-1 at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma. With the victory, the Thorns finished the National Women’s Soccer League’s four-match Fall Series with 10 points — enough to secure the Community Shield for the best record.
The fouls overshadowed a solid defensive performance by the Reign. The Thorns outshot the home side 10-4 on-goal, but couldn’t create a score within the flow of the match.
“We really dominated for majority of the game,” Reign midfielder Dani Weatherholt said during a video conference call with media members. “The last time we played Portland, they came at us and had so many chances. We really limited them down to two PKs in this game. So, we’re taking that into the next game. We had a strong defensive presence.”
Sinclair used a hat trick to help defeat her Cascadia rival at Providence Park in September. For the Fall Series rematch, Reign defender Amber Brooks caused two fouls that put Sinclair in the box for the penalty kicks.
The go-ahead score was in the 73rd minute — a simple right-footed shot to the bottom left corner.
“I don’t know about the penalty,” Reign coach Farid Benstiti, who was hired in January, said during a video conference call. “I don’t like to speak about this. I want to see the video and have an objective opinion. … My first game in Cheney and I lost. That’s why I’m very sad.”
Brooks tripped Thorns striker Simone Charley in the box, drawing a penalty in the 42nd minute to open up the scoring. Sinclair lined up for the kick and easily juked Reign keeper Casey Murphy to score off a right-foot shot.
Murphy otherwise had a strong opening half. The Thorns created three shots on-goal and Murphy saved two. She finished with eight saves overall.
The Reign’s best opportunity to score was a tense series in the 27th minute. Midfielder Sofia Huerta sent a beautiful cross for Jasmyne Spencer to play at the mouth of the goal. The attempt was blocked and teammate Bethany Balcer’s rebound attempt also was stopped by Thorns keeper Britt Eckerstrom.
Eckerstrom wasn’t as quick in the second half.
Portland midfielder Raquel Rodriguez was called for a foul to set up a free kick for the Reign in the 46th minute. Midfielder Shirley Cruz collected a deflection and beamed the ball back at the goal where Brooks added a little oomph with a high, left-footed tap that bounced and went in before Eckerstrom could react.
The equalizer is the Reign’s fourth goal of the Fall Series, fifth in 2020.
“It drove me nuts, that random goal comes out of nowhere,” Portland coach Mark Parsons said during a video conference call. “It just summed up the year because nothing has been easy. For everyone, of course, but especially for this team.
“Whether it was COVID, whether it was the smoke (from wildfires), or whether it was all the setbacks and all the injuries. …No matter what it was, we kept moving and kept moving.”
The Reign (0-2-1) are home against the Utah Royals FC on Oct. 17 to conclude the 2020 slate.
The match Saturday was a home debut delayed seven months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NWSL first returned with a Challenge Cup in Utah this past summer, the Reign losing in the quarterfinals.
Portland made one change from the lineup that defeated the Reign 4-1 in September, swapping striker Tyler Lussi for Sophia Smith.
The Reign made three changes. Madison Hammond started at left back for Taylor Smith, making Hammond the first Black Native American to start a NWSL match. Weatherholt started in the midfield in place of Rosie White while Murphy was in goal for Michelle Betos. The latter underwent a minor knee surgery earlier this month and is out until the 2021 season.
“We’re really happy in how we responded after last week,” Spencer said during a video conference call with media. “We came out with a lot of fight and caused some difficulties, so that’s the positives we can take away from it.”
- NWSL will award the Thorns $25,000 for the charity of their choosing for winning the Shield. Portland (3-0-1) plans to donate the earnings to Mimi’s Fresh Tees. Kamelah Adams started the T-shirt company to create a way for people to wear their feelings with apparel like “Racism is the Pandemic est. 1492” shirts or “Love >Hate” tote bags.