SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Alex Morgan scored the equalizer and assisted on the late game-winning goal to lift Portland Thorns FC to a 2-1 win over the Boston Breakers, re-establishing their second place standing and putting Boston’s playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.
The NWSL has been a league of streaks, and both teams entered the game riding one of their own. Thorns FC were able to stop a four-game winless skid and end the Breakers’ four-game unbeaten streak without a loss in front of 2,978 fans at Dilboy Stadium, the second-largest crowd ever at the venue.
The Breakers struck first, with Lianne Sanderson beating Karina LeBlanc in the 13th minute. Cat Whitehill sent a long free kick up the field and Kyah Simon found herself able to bounce it to Sanderson, who had space and time to launch one between a diving LeBlanc and the right post.
Sanderson is always candid with media after the game, and admitted that “it was one of the weirdest games of the season for me.” She said she never felt frustrated, but, as always, her individual contributions always come second to the team’s. “Me scoring a goal today, I don’t really care because we lost. It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win.”
Five minutes later, Thorns FC had back-to-back chances that were both close calls. First, Christine Sinclair tried to chip Breakers keeper Ashley Phillips, but her attempt hit the crossbar. On the rebound, Alex Morgan and Cat Whitehill both went up for the ball. Morgan won the header, but sent it just over the bar, and was shaken up on the play from contact with Whitehill.
In the 23rd minute, Nikki Marshall sent a long ball up to Morgan, who collected it, drew Phillips out of the net, then easily dodged her for a wide open shot on goal. For Morgan, it was her first goal since June 6th against FC Kansas City and her sixth of the season.
“It’s been a long time since we got the result we wanted,” said Morgan after the game. “Everything came together today. We realized that we really needed this game in order to potentially get first place at the end of this league. And so we’re happy with the result we got, and hopefully we can come back with a little more confidence moving forward.”
Both sides struggled with possession at times, with the Breakers generally having the upper hand for the first 30 minutes of the game. Once the 30-minute mark passed, Thorns FC changed the tempo of the game and slowed it down, one that hurt a Breakers attack based on speed in Leroux and O’Reilly.
“That’s one thing we’ve been working on in practice, is slowing the game down and speeding it up, and controlling the tempo,” Thorns coach Cindy Cone said.
The Breakers had two more chances in the 30th and 32nd minutes, but Sydney Leroux sent her shot just wide to LeBlanc’s left. Heather O’Reilly had a beautiful strike from distance that had just too much on it, and flew a couple of inches over the woodwork.
In the second half, LeBlanc came up with another epic stop on a close-range shot from Leroux, getting both hands on the chest-high shot and pushing it out of bounds for a corner kick.
Portland controlled the pace of the rest of the second half as well, and benefited a couple of times from poor Breakers giveaways. Kia McNeill and Whitehill generally did well to double-team Morgan, but Jazmyne Avant struggled to keep up with her former teammate when she used the left wing to advance into the attacking third. Simon struggled for most of the game on both sides of the ball, despite coming up with the assist on Sanderson’s goal.
“Tonight, to be completely honest, we were making a lot of dumb mistakes,” said Breakers captain Cat Whitehill. “I just think we beat ourselves a little bit in this game, and obviously you have to give a lot of credit to Portland. They’re a great team, with a great backline, but I think in this game particularly, we really hurt ourselves more than anything.”
Portland once again looked far more purposeful and solid in the midfield with the addition of Tobin Heath, and she was key in the go-ahead goal in the 86th minute for Thorns FC. Heath linked up with Morgan at the edge of the penalty box, where Morgan found Meleana Shim making the overlapping run into the box and threaded a pass through the Breakers defense. Shim’s shot hit the very left corner of the net, and may have ended the playoff hopes of the Breakers, who are now 7 pts. out of fourth place.
Parlow Cone was quick to praise the efforts of Heath, Long and Shim after the game.
“I think our midfield’s been doing great on both sides of the ball. We’re doing a much better job of keeping the ball, especially on the point of attack, and just having a little bit more patience on the attack. And then defensively, they’re playing both sides of the ball and tracking back quickly.”
Portland returns home vs. the Chicago Red Stars on July 28 before facing league-leaders Sky Blue FC on July 31. The Breakers depart on a two-game road trip with stops at FC Kansas City on Wednesday and the Washington Spirit on July 27.
Notes & Quotes
- Sydney Leroux spent most of the week in Los Angeles after attending the ESPY awards. When asked if her absence from team practices had any impact on the starting line-up, Cole said: “I mean, you could say the same thing about Alex [Morgan]. They have one on their side, we have one on our side. At this level, you put the best players on the field. We were hoping we’d get a goal or two from Syd, that didn’t happen tonight. She’s a pro, and she did what she needed to do to be effective. I don’t think that played any big role in the game-plan or anything.”
- Breakers Captain Cat Whitehill is looking at the stacked August schedule as a positive after tonight’s defeat. “The timing of [the loss] is really bad. We definitely have to go on a run. Fortunately, we’re playing people ahead of us, so we can win those games and that’s good for us. Two with Kansas City, two with Western New York, another one with [Thorns FC]. So we have to look at the positives there and in some way, we can control a little bit of our destiny.”
- O’Reilly was calm after the match, if a bit subdued. For her, it isn’t time to hit the panic button yet. “I just think looking at games in the past, we’ve had games where we’ve completely outplayed Portland, we beat them at their place, and outplayed the Flash and beat them at their place. We’ve had some really good results against Sky Blue. This is a very competitive league. We know that we can do it, we know that we can win these games, so history will hopefully give us confidence. There’s still time. We’re not worried, we’re going to take one game at a time and just worry about getting three points when we can.”
- When asked about a shot that went off the crossbar late in the game, Alex Morgan started laughing. “Oh, you know, I need to keep my shots a little lower. That’s a little bit of an issue I’ve been having the last couple of weeks. My pace is there, the accuracy is coming.”
Portland Thorns FC (9-4-3, 30pts) at Boston Breakers (5-6-5, 20pts)
Goals by Half 1 2 F
POR 1 1 2
BOS 1 0 1
BOS: Sanderson (Simon), 13
POR: Morgan (Marshall), 24
POR: Shim (Morgan), 86
POR: Heath (Caution), 84
POR: LeBlanc; Dougherty, Williamson, Buehler, Marshall; Heath, Long, Shim, Foxhoven (70′ Weimer), Sinclair (C), Morgan
BOS: Phillips; King, McNeill, Whitehill (C), Avant, Nogueira (77′ Schoepfer), Lohman, Sanderson, O’Reilly, Simon, Leroux
Referee: Robert Sibiga
Assistant Referees: Cory Richardson, Russ Wolf
Fourth Official: Mounir Idmalak