PORTLAND, Ore. — It would be too much to call Portland Thorns FC’s Saturday result a breakthrough, but it was still a nice change of pace. Coming off three-straight games decided by one goal — two of which, the Thorns’ first losses of 2021 — Portland could use a night with some breathing room. Against Racing Louisville FC, they got it.
With goals from Angela Salem, Rocky Rodríguez and Lindsey Horan, the now-second-place Thorns posted a 3-0 victory in Louisville’s Providence Park debut, taking their regular-season record to 3-2-0 while earning their second victory in a row.
“It was a really complete performance,” Portland head coach Mark Parsons said, afterward. “I thought the energy was outstanding.
“We really wanted intensity in the attack. When we could get on the turn, when we could play forward, we did … And then without the ball, we were animals. It was so fun to watch …”
In some ways, Saturday’s performance was what the Thorns have been providing throughout the season. The night’s shot totals were a good indication of that. Through the 28-4 edge was larger than the team has usually posted, it wasn’t completely uncharacteristic. Portland averaged 19.2 shots per game before Saturday night. It averaged 9.7 allowed.
What was noticeably different was the payoff. In their three previous games, the Thorns had a pair of 2-1 losses (versus OL Reign, then at Orlando) and a 1-0 victory (over Gotham FC). In each, the shot totals were still lopsided. The Thorns averaged 21.7 shots in those games; conceded on average 12.
Against Louisville, Portland was better in both departments and, in terms of the scoreboard, got a much better result.
“For the longest time,” midfielder Crystal Dunn said, “we were [saying], ‘we’re not getting the results, sometimes, but it’s not because we’re not having a good performance.’ So, I think tonight was a complete performance, all across the board.”
Part of the improved result was surely the venue, as well as the circumstances. Whereas last week’s games at Orlando and Gotham saw Portland on the road, playing on short rest and traveling, tonight’s was at home after the team had been in one city for five days. That’s got to be worth a shot or two. Likewise, the team was playing Racing, an opponent that has talented players but is also navigating an expansion season. Louisville is still learning the NWSL’s ropes.
But the biggest difference in the Thorns’ scoreline may have had little to do with their performance. Instead, if may have been the nature of soccer. Call it the sport’s variance, if you want. It’s a cruel fact of the game that, at times, you can control play and opponents and still lose matches. Likewise, you can be the lesser team for most of a match’s 90 minutes and become the better with a few successful moments. Over the span of months and seasons, that variance tends to even out. Teams that create and prevent the most chances tend to win most. On a given night, though, soccer’s paradox can strike at any moment.
On Saturday, the Thorns probably got the result they deserved. Fans could point to Dunn and Horan shots in the first half that went off the Racing woodwork and say the margin should have been more, but those missed chances are also part of soccer’s paradox. Sometimes, dominance produces near misses, not goals. But persist with that dominance long enough, put up a margin of 28-4 in shots, and you’re likely to reach the final whistle with a margin like three goals.
“The two losses that we have this season, we did everything but put the ball in the back of the net,” Dunn said. “We had the possession, we have the tactics, and things like that. But the goals were flowing tonight. I think we’re extremely happy that we’re on this journey, this growth from one game to another.”
It would be too much to call Saturday’s result a breakthrough. After all, the Thorns have posted a larger margin this season. Instead, it’s better to think of their win over a Racing as an extension of how they were already performing. That meant close results, before. That meant a one-sided game on Saturday.