Portland Thorns FC head coach Paul Riley

On why the game plan didn’t come together…
“I think it did. I mean, you watched the game. What do you think? I mean, we won Saturday from start to finish – 18 shots, 11 corner kicks, probably 600 passes to 200 – I can’t ask for anything more from the players, they were brilliant tonight. When they got a chance, they stuck it away and they held on for dear life for 75 minutes from that point on, you know. I thought it was a great display. I thought the midfield was terrific. Kendall [Johnson] in the wide areas I thought was good; Ayo had a decent first game at home. We created enough chances but were a bit sloppy on the final ball, the final finish. That’s probably the only thing I could be somewhat critical of. The back three were brilliant, the goalkeeper was excellent, and distribution was good. What to say? I thought they were really good tonight; I have to be honest with you. I feel a little bit unlucky tonight.”

On the need for the team to get a goal from a forward…
“We obviously need somebody to score. Whether it be Ayo, [Sarah Jackson], Kelsey [Haycook], you know, we always thought that would be the issue. Obviously with everyone being out, the firepower would be the one issue – the midfield is pretty well intact. We’ve created the chances and to be honest with you, [Houston Dash goalkeeper Bianca Henninger] made a couple of great saves in the first half. One from Kendall [Johnson] when we were down, one from [Sarah Jackson] in the sixth [minute] and she made a great save. I picked Bianca as a draft pick so she’s got great reflexes, she’s very quick, and I thought she did well tonight under pressure. You’ve got to give them credit. They defended with last-ditch tackles, last-ditch headers, and they’re a big side, obviously. They caused us some problems on set pieces, but they’re a big side, physical team. Sometimes it’s hard to play these teams, especially when they get on top of you. They get ahead, and now we’re chasing the game, and they almost got you right where they want you, especially with that speed they got up front but I thought we handled the game well, managed the game well. I thought McCall [Zerboni] and Sinead [Farrelly] were outstanding in the midfield. I mean, their GPS numbers must be off the charts. I mean if we had played like this last week in Boston we would have come away with three points. If we can keep that consistency of level of play, then I think we’ll be fine.

On Houston Dash forward Jessica McDonald’s play…
“Jess scored a brilliant goal. You watched the run, and a great ball in the box. I mean, Alyssa [Kleiner] making her first start, who I actually thought did really well, she goes ‘Paul, what do I do?’ I go ‘I don’t know if you can stop that.’ The only thing you can do is to stop the distribution coming into the box because once she’s in those areas and has a little pocket of space – it was a little pocket of space – and she just got in to. That’s what Jess does well, she’s a poacher. She got into a good area, and I thought it was a really good finish to be honest with you.”

On the team’s defensive performance…
“I think [the goal] is almost impossible to stop, I have to be honest, unless you cut the cross out. You get closer to [Houston Dash forward Kealia] Ohai [Ohai], maybe Emily [Menges] gets a bit closer, maybe Kat [Williamson] cuts it out - Kat was in the front, I think in the near post, it went inside of her. But watching the tape, I only saw it on the big screen and obviously live it happened so fast, but I think it’s really difficult to mark. Maybe you bump her before she gets into the penalty box but once she’s in the box, it was a great cross, pin-point. It was their one, really their one and only, I don’t remember another chance but she put it away and I guess that’s the point unfortunately.”

On the difficulty of facing Houston’s defensive style of play:
“It’s tough. That’s why you’ve got to get the first goal. We’ve been at our best, probably, when we’ve gotten the first goal. I thought we played well tonight coming from a losing position but it’s very difficult. I mean you could see Allie [Long] and Mana [Shim] – I mean we were playing in tight areas trying to get the ball through those seams and then we get the ball wide and just the delivery, we just couldn’t get on the end of any of the deliveries. I’m not sure how many crosses we put in. I think the shots were 22, I think it was about 22-6, something like that. We played enough balls in to win the game, we just didn’t get on the end of it.”

On the importance of the team’s upcoming road matches at Washington and Houston before the team gets a week off…
“Before the break, we’ve got six points to play for and we need points. I think when you drop points at home you’ve got to go on the road. We have them in two weeks – Houston – we’ve got a bit of payback for it, I think and then Washington next week. We’ve got two great fields to play on- grass fields that I think will suit our style. You just got to get points. We’ve got to pick up points before the break and put ourselves in a good position for the running at the halfway stage.”

On what the team can take from not being able to finish despite creating 18 shots in the match…
“I think maybe just a little bit more composure inside the penalty box, but you can work on finishing all you want at the end of the day, but when you come in front of 15,000 and the ball is coming across the box at 50 miles an hour, it takes a bit more of a composed finish, maybe a more experienced player to put the ball in the net. But all we can do is keep working at it. We worked on penetration all week, through the width, through the middle, and we got both from them tonight. It was last-ditch tackles, last-ditch headers. They’re just tough to break down, I think, it was a good point. They’re sitting in and you’ve got to go around the outside of them or you’ve got to go through them but you’re trying to go through nine players, which isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Unfortunately, they could have gotten us on the counter attack maybe. It looked like it just once pass to connect and [Houston Dash forward Kealia] Ohai would be in behind us, but I think we did a pretty good job. I thought Emily [Menges], you know – we’ve had a few injury issues, obviously, Courtney’s [Niemiec] injured, Rachel’s [Van Hollebeke] injured and Emily got off the injured bed to play. She only practiced yesterday and I thought she did a pretty good job considering. [Alyssa] Kleiner made her debut tonight, and there’s a kid who has not played at this level. She was convincing me all week, ‘don’t worry coach, I’m a game player, not a practice player’ and I thought she did really well, in all fairness. She had a couple of tackles that I wouldn’t be seen dead in. So I was proud of the players tonight, to be honest with you, I thought they played really well. The work ethic was fantastic.

Portland Thorns FC Goalkeeper Michelle Betos


On what she saw in the goal…
“Honestly I didn’t catch Jess [McDonald] making that run in so I was just trying to look at the ball. I thought Emily did a pretty good job of keeping her wide. [Houston Forward Kealia] Ohai is a threat, we were worried about her coming in and I thought Emily did a good job of getting her wide. In an ideal world, maybe she blocks that cross but Ohai is just fast. She did a good job beating Emily. Emily is one of my favorite defenders to play with so she did a good job. She served the ball and it was a tough ball for me because it is curling away. You know, I’m going to think of a million things I could have done differently but at the end of the day I think it’s a great ball and a great finish and credit to them.”

On how her leadership from the back benefits the team…
“I think, from my perspective, they were giving everything they had. I mean, we literally through everything we had at them and it didn’t work out today but to me, I’m kind of standing back there, but they’re running around for 90 minutes. At that point our captain is down and I’m just trying to makes sure that people are staying in because physically I can’t imagine that they had much left. So, just trying say, ‘here we go. Let’s work five more minutes. Let’s do this’. I think it’s effective. I think that we all really respect each other. We all listen to each other and we all have the same goal so at that point I was the one picking them up but they’ve picked me up many times too. It’s just part of the game.”

On if there are things that need fixed in the defense
“I think there are always things that can be fixed. I think in the last game, I mean I’ve taken that goal on myself, I misjudged the ball. I thought it was bouncing in the box. To be honest I thought our defense played well that game. We didn’t create too much up top. I think every game it’s been different. Today our offense created and the other keeper had a great game that we just missed by pieces and hairs and inches. I think there is a little bit to learn from every goal we concede but I think that were ok with doing it now. We’re taking a lot, we’re getting better every week and by the end of the season I think we’ll be in a good place.”


On if she spoke with former Portland Thorn and current Houston forward Jessica McDonald…
“Ya, after the game. Jess is a great person and a great player. We knew coming in she was going to be hungry. She was here last year and she’s a great player. I mean she scored a ton of goals for us last year and we knew we had to worry about her and she came through for them.”

On what the focus is going into the next two games before the World Cup break…
“I mean after today Paul said to us, ‘You know we just have to do this again because I think if we play like this again, we’re not going to lose’ I mean, they finished one goal, we didn’t finish our chances but I think that you give us another game where we have [18] shots total, we’re going to finish. We have great forwards, we have great midfielders and we feel ok. I mean we’re not ok with the loss but we don’t think we played badly and that’s why we lose. So, I think that there’s six points out there, I’d be very surprised if we don’t get those six points.”

Portland Thorns FC Midfielder Kendall Johnson


On the game…
“Definitely a tough game. I thought we possessed a majority of the game and our midfield did a really good job of just keeping it, finding the ball and switching it. So, I feel like I had a lot of space to work with. Partially didn’t capitalize on my chances and hopefully next game will be better.”

On what it means for the team that the goals are coming from the midfield…
“I think at the end of the day it’s just always a team effort when getting goals scored. It comes from the front line, all the way through. I think that as a whole we did a really good job pressuring and I think that Jess just made a really solid run. I thought we had actually marked her pretty well and had her covered. It was just one of those goals that it was a great cross and a great finish.”


On what the focusing point for the next two games and the team priority going into the World Cup break…
“I think just building off our performance today. I thought we actually came out and played pretty solid. We played how we wanted to, we possessed it, we penetrated down the middle, we also used the flank. I think all around we just played solid. We pressured hard on the defense and just building off of that and obviously now we just have to get the final piece of finishing.”

On if it’s frustrating to lose when seemingly dominating the game…
“I mean obviously we want to win. It’s always frustrating not getting the three points but credit to Houston. They had a couple good chances and they were able to capitalize and at the end of the day you have to score your goals. It’s definitely something we’ll work on but I think overall we did have a good performance and if we can keep playing like that the goals are going to come and we’ll start winning.”


Notes:                                                                                               

  • Midfielder Allie Long played in her 50th career match for Thorns FC on Saturday.


  • Portland conceded just four shot attempts in the match, the fewest shots allowed in a match this year.


  • Midfielder McCall Zerboni played her 21st consecutive NWSL match, dating back to the 2014 season with the Western New York Flash and has now logged 1,890 consecutive minutes. It was also Zerboni’s 50th career NWSL appearance.


  • Defender Alyssa Kleiner made her Thorns FC and NWSL in the match, starting and playing 90 minutes.


  • Defender Emily Menges started her 14th consecutive match, dating back to the 2014 season.


  • Saturday’s match marked the fourth time in six matches that Portland has held its opponent to single-digit shot attempts.


  • Thorns FC conceded five or less shots to Houston for a second consecutive match, dating back to their last meeting on Aug. 3, 2014.


  • Portland recorded a season-high 11 corner kicks in the match.


  • Thorns FC conceded zero shots on goal in a half for the fifth time in team history in the match and for a second time against Houston.


  • Defender Emily Menges has not committed a foul in 1079 consecutive minutes, dating back to July 20, 2014.


  • Thorns FC recorded 10 or more shots in a match for the third time in the last four matches.


  • Saturday’s loss marked the team’s first-ever loss all-time against Houston (3-1-0).