You can point to the clean sheet – the team’s second in the tournament. You can point to the positive margin in shots and possession. You can point to the sense that the team dominated much of the game’s tempo and play.
But there’s no getting around the fact that Portland Thorns FC’s 0-0 draw Monday against the OL Reign placed the team in the eighth seed at the bottom of the standings.
However, with every team making the quarterfinals, Portland now finds itself, in many ways, back at the beginning when they played in the tournament opener. Their quarterfinal opponent will be, once again, the North Carolina Courage (July 17, 9:30am PT, CBS All Access).
Though the Courage sit atop the standings having gone undefeated – they play Sky Blue FC tonight – having to face them in the knockouts is not such a bad thing, according to Thorns defender Katherine Reynolds.
“We’re going to need to beat North Carolina to win this tournament. Might as well do it now,” she told Ann Schatz and Marian Dougherty in the Thorns Live postgame show Monday.
With Portland’s Lindsey Horan and Emily Menges both unavailable for the match against the Reign due minor injuries, Portland was forced once again to adjust their lineup. Add to that, injury absences to Becky Sauerbrunn, Sophia Smith and Adrianna Franch, Thorns head coach Mark Parsons believes that there were still positives to take from the result – particularly with the defense.
“The way we trained and prepared for this tournament, we knew everyone was going to be very, very important on and off the field,” he said. “I'm really proud of all the players that have stepped up into new positions, into new roles and been as cohesive as any other backline.”
He added, “Our defending starts at the front and our midfield and forwards did a fantastic job with Bella [Bixby] and the backline to limit a team that has two or three [NWSL Best XI] players available and we managed to keep them at bay."
Portland dominated much of the first half play in the Reign end with Christine Sinclair – named Budweiser Woman of the Match – helping lead the charge. She, Morgan Weaver and Simone Charley were often darting through the attacking third but couldn't find the back of the net. Midfielder Rocky Rodríguez nearly found the game-winner late in the second half with some nifty footwork on the edge of the 18-yard box. But in a trend that has become all too familiar for the Thorns in this tournament, they lacked the final finishing touch of a goal.
With North Carolina now looming on the horizon, the Thorns will need to find that finishing touch and Parsons believes the team has the belief and ability.
“Right now, coming off this [game], we've finished in the same spot where this team is performing at such a high level without the final piece,” he said. “But what a time to find the final piece in the quarterfinal against a very good opponent like [North Carolina]…
“I think the belief in this group about us being able to beat anyone in this tournament is as strong or as high as anyone in this league and it has been for a long, long time.”