Portland entered halftime of its 2022 regular season home opener with a commanding 2-0 lead against Kansas City.
There were dangerous through balls that slipped attackers in on goal; low, driven crosses from the end line and confident spells of possession.
To be so comfortable through 90 minutes and control a game by such a margin speaks to the type of team the Thorns are. They aren’t immune to a frustrating game or two every so often – see: 1-0 losses to OL Reign and Angel City in the recent Challenge Cup – but they also have the capability to overwhelm opponents. On Saturday, Portland showed that against the Current as it won 3-0 to open its 10th regular season.
“That’s what we're capable of,” Christine Sinclair said. “We’re dangerous going forward, solid at the back and for the most part it was our best 90-minute performance.”
In addition to its natural talent up and down the roster, there’s versatility when it comes to the team’s ideas and how players are utilized in coach Rhian Wilkinson’s lineup. On Saturday, for example, Morgan Weaver and Janine Beckie started up top with Sinclair and Rocky Rodriguez behind them. At times, Weaver stayed up top as Beckie dropped back to combine with the midfield and visa versa. Other times, both pressed Kansas City’s back line together.
“Watching each other’s body movement, we knew right away who was [making a run] and who wasn’t,” Weaver said. “I think we just kept building off that; with [Sinclair] and Sophia [Smith], our relationships are going to keep growing, as you saw tonight.”
Behind the Thorns’ front two, Rodriguez finished the afternoon with an assist and generated countless other dangerous opportunities. Her slipped ball to Sinclair ended in Weaver’s opening goal and there were other moments in which creative passes from the top of the box ended in the path of Portland's attackers.
Deeper in midfield, Sam Coffey impressed her teammates. In addition to keeping the midfield organized, the rookie from Penn State played several switches from deep in midfield out wide, helping spring attacks.
“[Coffey] looks like she has been her for 10 years,” Sinclair said. “She’s a leader on the field and organizing people; technically rookies don’t tend to do that. She’s a boss back there and I’m excited to see what she’s capable of this season and moving forward.”
Defensively, Portland held the Current – a team that reached the 2022 Challenge Cup semifinals by topping the Midwest division – relatively toothless. Kansas City won twice and drew once on the road throughout the Challenge Cup but couldn’t generate a shot on goal or corner kick in the game’s opening 25 minutes. The Thorns, meanwhile, set an NWSL record for shots on goal in a half with 10.
“We wanted to impose ourselves,” Sinclair said. “We wanted to press them as much as we could, and I think you saw that in the first half. We started to fatigue in the second half, but us being at home we need to put teams under pressure and that was our focus heading into today.”
Up a goal, the Thorns ruthlessly continued to attack. Weaver had a chance at a brace midway through the first half, but her powerful shot from close range was instinctively parried away by Current goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
Then, in the 34th minute, the Thorns netted their second. After slowly switching the ball across the field through a series of passes in front of the box, Natalia Kuikka played a cross headed down by Weaver and into the path of Sinclair, who rifled the ball into the roof of the net.
The afternoon’s most draw-dropping goal came courtesy of Smith who, five minutes after coming into the game, received the ball on the right side of the box, picked out the top left corner of the net and fired a shot past the helpless arms of a leaping Franch.
“We had a lot of confidence in each other playing the ball down the line and trying to get in the box,” Weaver said. “When we had the open chances, we took them and we just kept building.”
A week ago, Thorns players left Los Angeles frustrated following the team’s 1-0 loss to Angel City. One week later, Portland showed what it looks like when everything is clicking, and players believe the best is yet to come.
“I don’t think we’ve had our best performance yet,” Weaver said. “I think we have a lot to grow on and a lot to learn still. We have a new coaching staff and I think we’re going to get better and better every game.”