The Portland Thorns participated in their first preseason match of the year on Sunday evening. The second of a doubleheader, Portland laced their boots up to take on Racing Louisville FC. Grey skies and cold drizzle — warmups provided a true Pacific Northwest ambiance as the defending NWSL champions and Louisville prepared to close out the first round of the preseason tournament.
Come kick-off, only the grey skies remained and although still chilly, it was great Sunday soccer weather. Set up in a 4-3-3 formation, within the initial 10 minutes of the match, the Thorns offense made their presence felt. Sophia Smith squeezing past the Louisville defense on three different occasions, intimidated Racing goalkeeper Katie Lund from the get-go. The 2022 NWSL Most Valuable Player came close to the opener in the 8th minute, forcing Lund to a diving save to her left. The Thorns executed an offensive onslaught, headed by Smith on the attack for the better part of the first half.
Thorns keeper and match captain Bella Bixby commanded a strong presence in the defensive side with controlled activity of the little offensive threat Louisville provided. Portland seemed to have the opportunity to breakthrough in the 42nd via the penalty spot after a knock on Smith brought her to the turf. Following VAR review to analyze the contact, the referee reversed the call and play resumed, much to the discontent of Providence Park.
Although the half-time whistle blew on a nil-nil scoreline, it was evident the Thorns were superior on the pitch. Portland not only outshot Racing, but controlled much of the possession heading into the locker room.
As the second-half commenced, it would again be Portland on the attack. By the 50th minute the Thorns had already attempted two shots, one of them forcing the Louisville defense to jostle around in the six-yard box following a series of dangerous rebounds.
As it is common in preseason, various subs were made within the first 15 minutes of the second-half. Notably, 12th overall pick Izzy D'Aquilo taking over the attack in replacement of Sophia Smith. Izzy looked comfortable in her role, immediately becoming a presence in the box, leading a couple dangerous pay in her first minutes of action. Club legend Christine Sinclair also saw action being subbed on in the 61st, and ran the midfield for Portland the rest of the match.
The match seemed destined to end in a stalemate until the 84th minute. Taylor Porter initially had a chance on goal, and with a left footed blast, forced the Racing keeper to dive left and palm the ball into a corner kick. The ensuing set ball from the left corner resulted in the opener courtesy of Meaghan Nally. Her headed rebound in the six yard box put the ball past Racing defenders and across the line.
At the full-time whistle, the 1-0 scoreline gave the Thorns the victory. It was clear throughout the whole 90 minutes that the 2023 Thorns are going to be an exciting team to watch as they look to defend their crown.
A couple noteworthy performance on the night were Hina Sugita and Bella Bixby. Sugita looked great, through her 71 minutes of game time. The Japan international commanded the flanks and dazzled the crowd with her quick dribbles and ball control, creating space for many of the Thorns advances. On her end, Bixby remained solid all game, making various catch-saves and clearances, securing the clean sheet.
The Thorns continue preseason action in the Wednesday March 15 doouble-header as they take on the USWNT U-23's following the Racing Louisville FC vs. OL Reign matchup.