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Morgan leads Portland past KC in high-scoring win

Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan played the role of finisher and providor on Thursday night. (Photo copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Goals from Alex Morgan, Courtney Wetzel, Danielle Foxhoven, and Allie Long saw Thorns FC bounce back into the win column, Cindy Parlow Cone’s team producing a convincing 4-3 win over FC Kansas City in front of 10,886 Thursday at JELD-WEN Field.

Coming off a home loss last weekend to Chicago, Portland bounced back early, collecting goals from Morgan and Wetzel in the first 19 minutes. A penalty converted by Lauren Cheney near the half-hour mark brought the visiting Blues back into match, but shortly after coming on at halftime, Foxhoven finished at close range to restore Portland’s two-goal lead.

Cheney completed her double in the 55th minute, cutting Portland’s lead to one before Morgan’s second made it 4-2 in the 66th minute.

Although rookie midfielder Erika Tymrak’s first NWSL goal make it a one-goal game in the 81st, Kansas City was ultimately unable to find an equalizer, leaving Portland with a 4-3 loss.

“I prefer the scores to be a little bit of a wider margin,” Cone said after the match, ask about the result, “but Kansas City’s a tremendous team … They fought [until] the end, scored from fantastic goals, and put us under a lot of pressure.”

“Obviously giving up three goals in a game is never a good thing,” Cone said. “Luckily, we scored four.”

For Portland, the win moves them to 7-2-1 on the season, even on points at the top of the NWSL with Sky Blue FC. Kansas City now sits 3-3-1 and remain fifth in the standings.

The game was a rematch of the new league’s inaugural affair, a 1-1 draw at Shawnee Mission District Stadium on April 13. A late equalizer from the spot by Christine Sinclair took a point from Portland on that Saturday, with an early opener from Kansas City’s Renae Cuellar registering the first goal in NWSL history.

Since then Portland has stayed near the top of the league, although two losses in four games left the second place Thorns with lingering questions ahead of Kansas City’s arrival. The Blues had also dropped two games since opening day, including a 1-0 result to visiting Sky Blue on May 25, a match in which FCKC played the final 78 minutes with 10 women.

Each team was getting their collection of United States and Canadian national team players back after last week’s international break, though whereas FC Kansas City had the weekend off, Portland played without attackers Morgan and Sinclair, defender Rachel Buehler, and goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc in a 2-0 loss Saturday vs. Chicago.

While FC Kansas City saw midfielders Cheney, Desiree Scott, and Kristie Mewis, defenders Becky Sauerbrunn and Lauren Sesselmann, and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart return from their teams’ game in Toronto, Sesselmann remained in Kansas City for Thursday’s match, suspended after seeing red against Sky Blue.

Thorns FC produced the first clear chance of the match after a sixth minute corner was sent to the middle of the area, Sinclair seeing the ball drop to her right foot just inside the six-yard box. Her redirection was saved off the line by Scott, the Blues’ midfielder clearing what was nearly Portland’s opening goal.

Seven minutes later, Portland broke through after Sauerbrunn slipped at the edge of the Kansas City area while trying to play a ball sent back from midfield. Morgan was there to take advantage, finishing into the top of Barnhart’s goal from 12 yards out to put Thorns FC up, 1-0.

“I’ve played with and against Becky (Sauerbrunn) and Nicole Barhart mutiple times,” Morgan said, describing the opening goal. “I know the way Becky defends. I know the way Barnie blocks shots. Luckily, I just got fortunate on that, picking Becky off. With the shot, I went for power rather than accuracy because I know Nicole is really good reading that ball to the far post.”

At the 20 minute mark, Portland doubled their lead after a ball sent wide right from midfield by Becky Edwards allowed Thorns right back Marian Dougherty to get behind the defense. The defender’s cut back to the middle of the area was met but Wetzel, who finished her first NWSL goal inside the right post, giving the home side a 2-0 lead.

To that point, Kansas City had failed to establish the type of possession advantage they’ve enjoyed through most of their season, but after going down two, the Blues slowly came into the match, eventually generating the chance that led to their first goal.

Building down the right, Kansas City put forward Renae Cuellar behind the Thorns defense in the 30th minute, with Buehler’s desperation challenge giving the Blues a penalty kick. Shortly after Cuellar hobbled off with what appeared to be a left knee injury (to be replaced by Courtney Jones), Cheney finished to LeBlanc’s left to cut Portland’s lead in half, the sides going into halftime at 2-1.

Three minutes into the second half, Portland regained their two-goal lead. Starting at the edge of the penalty area, Morgan dribbled left around right back Merritt Mathias before driving a ball toward the middle of goal. Foxhoven, who had come on at halftime for Mana Shim, redirected the ball past Nicole Barnhart, giving Portland a 3-1 lead.

Portland nearly put the game away in the 55th minute, Morgan beating the defense to the left of goal before putting in a ball that the open Foxhoven overran, but moments later, Kansas City had again cut their deficit to one. Moving down their left, Leigh Ann Robinson was able to cross a ball near post from near the byline, Cheney getting in front of Karina LeBlanc to redirect home the Blues’ second goal.

Over the next 10 minutes, Kansas City came close to two equalizers, both via crosses from their right. In the 60th minute, Cheney, playing as FCKC’s striker, drifted right to get to a ball played behind the defense by Mathias. Her floated cross toward LeBlanc’s far post was caught before an unmarked Jones could head the ball on goal.

Two minutes later, Mathias’ cross to the middle of Portland’s area found Jones, this time going wide after the Kansas City sub couldn’t steer the ball on frame from 12 yards out.

The Blues were left to rue their chances four minutes later when Christine Sinclair drove a ball across the six from left of goal. Barnhart came out to get a hand to the ball, but when the ricochet found Morgan, the Portland striker had her shot deflect off Allie Long, who was credited with the goal following a review.

“I’m not even sure if I got the goal or if Allie (Long) got the goal,” Morgan explained, replays showing her shot deflected off Long before going in, “I told her she was going to score today.”

“Everyone knows Alex is a great player,” Cone said after her striker’s best performance of the season. “She brings so much to the game: her pace; her hard work; her skill; her passing; her finishing. She’s one of the best forwards in the world, and she showed that again tonight.”

Fifteen minutes later, after the match seemed to have settled, Tyrmak was allowed to cut left-to-right across the top of the Portland penalty area. Letting go of a diagonal shot in the 81st minute, the former University of Florida star slid Kansas City’s third goal inside the right post, giving the visitors at least nine minutes to try and find an equalizer.

Portland, however, were able to hold out, their best offensive showing of the season edging out their shakiest defensive performance – a welcome change for a team that had gone over two games since scoring a goal from open play.

“”Everyone was a little bummed out,” Morgan explained, asked about the team’s state after the loss to Chicago. “Heads were down a little bit. Confidence was down a little bit, definitely. I think that’s why it was so necessary to have talks with and without the coaches just to remind everyone why we’re here, how much this is a team effort, not just individual efforts on the field.”

But as far as individual performances were concerned, Morgan not only had the night’s best. She had arguably her best performance of the season.

“I do think tonight was one of my better games,” Morgan said, asked to assess her performance. “We were all just on the same page. Everyone was moving for each other. I was anticipated the balls Sinc was playing, Allie was playing, Mana (Shim), even Dani (Foxhoven) when she came in at halftime and lifted the energy …

“Obviously I love to score goals and contribute in any way I can. In that way, getting one (goal), getting an assist, really helped boost my confidence as well.”

That confidence helped cast Saturday’s disappointing loss as what Cone termed “a wake-up call.”

“I’ve learned a lot,” Cone said, asked to reflect on what can be taken from the last six days. “The team’s learned a lot about themselves, about each other, and about the Thorns as a whole. That’s important … I’m glad that we responded the way we did.”

The visiting Blues, on the other hand, leave JELD-WEN Field with their first losing streak of the season, their most uncharacteristic performance keeping them, for the time, one point back of fourth-place Western New York, who edged in front of Kansas City after a 2-2 draw Wednesday in Somerville, Mass.

Goals

12′ – Alex Morgan 5
19′ – Courtney Wetzel 1 (Marian Dougherty)
31′ – Lauren Cheney 3
48′ – Danielle Foxhoven 2 (Morgan)
55′ – Cheney 4 (Leigh Ann Robinson)
66′ – Allie Long 2 (Morgan)
81′ – Erika Tymrak 1 (Cheney)

Lineups

Portland Thorns FC: Karina LeBlanc; Marian Dougherty, Kathryn Williamson, Rachel Buehler, Nikki Marshall; Allie Long (Jazmyne Avant, 84′), Becky Edwards, Courtney Wetzel, Christine Sinclair; Mama Shim (Danielle Foxhoven, 46′), Alex Morgan

FC Kansas City: Nicole Barnhart; Merritt Mathias, Becky Sauerbrunn, Jen Buczkowski, Leigh Ann Robinson; Desiree Scott, Sinead Farrelly; Erika Tymrak, Lauren Cheney, Kristie Mewis; Renae Cuellar (Courtney Jones, 36′)

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