Christen Press’ first two NWSL goals cancelled out an outstanding first half for the Portland Thorns, who settled for a 2-2 home draw against the Chicago Red Stars. The result leaves both sides on 21 points (6-6-3 for both) with the Red Stars leading the Thorns for the coveted 4th position on goal difference. The Flash, on 20 points, can leap them both with a win on Saturday.
“Urgency, before the game, there was a lot of urgency in the group,” Thorns coach Paul Riley said. “I don’t think that’s a problem for us. There is urgency, but we’re running out of games. Obviously the desperation point comes when the points go off the table. We’ve let a really great position go at 2-0 to get three points at home. Now you’ve got the difficult part of going to Chicago twice in the next three games, which isn’t an easy place to go, on a field that’s the size of this room. It’s not going to be easy. But you just have to finish games.”
The Thorns celebrated the holiday match by welcoming back Tobin Heath, last seen in a Thorns kit scoring on a majestic free kick on her way to MVP honors in the 2013 final. Heath returned to an immediate place in the first XI, an honor not bestowed upon Christine Sinclair, reduced to the bench in the 1st half in favor of Jess McDonald.
After 24 minutes, much of which was played with the Thorns attacking, McDonald made the move seem like the right one. Allie Long sent a corner kick into the box that looked like it was intended for Rachel Van Hollebeke. When Van Hollebeke fell down, McDonald was there to curve the loose ball inside the left post for her team best 9th goal on the season.
The Thorns doubled up off another corner kick in the 39th minute. Long was not allowed to take it, instead being sent to the sideline for better bandaging of a cut that had drawn blood. Veronica Boquete took a short corner and worked a give-and-go with Sinead Farrelly. From there Boquete threaded a precision cross to Sarah Huffman who was able to evade Red Stars defenders in the area and finish her first NWSL goal.
Sinclair entered the match after halftime but it was the Red Stars who made the impression over the final 45. Still they trailed 2-0 with 15 minutes to go. That was when several Red Stars got quick touches off a throw-in and Emily Van Egmond hit a one-touch ball over the top that put Press through by splitting Huffman and Nikki Marshall. Nadine Angerer came out to challenge but Press took a goal-scorers touch to avoid the Thorns keeper and scored past the recovering defenders from a difficult angle.
Press’ equalizer was the sort of goal that cannot be defended. The Red Stars built up the left side and Van Egmond’s ball into the box was cleared out by the Thorns. It went to Press, who took a touch forward, then found a seam between two onrushing Thorns and cracked a shot into the upper 90. The beautiful strike leveled the match and sent both teams off to finish their holidays with a single point.
“I’m proud of the team’s resilience to fight to come back in this game,” Press said. “From what I’ve seen and felt, that’s what being a Red Star is all about.”
The comeback marked the second time the Red Stars have erased a two-goal deficit inside 15 minutes to earn a draw in Portland. Last July 28, goals by Alyssa Mautz (75th) and Julianne Sitch (86th) led the rally in a 3-3 draw.
The Red Stars and Thorns will meet again Wednesday night in Chicago.