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Thorns drub Breakers as Long nets brace

The Thorns authored a dominating start to their NWSL season with a 4-1 rout of the Boston Breakers in front of 13,386 fans who braved rainy conditions after halftime at Providence Park. Allie Long scored twice in 75 seconds to ice the match after the Breakers had split a 2-0 halftime decifit on Stephanie McCaffrey’s first professional goal. Sinead Farrelly opened the scoring for the Thorns, with Mana Shim adding a goal before assisting on both of Long’s tallies.

Paul Riley sent the Thorns out in an unorthodox formation, lining up three defenders and six midfielders. Two of them — Tobin Heath and Kendall Johnson — were responsible for the flanks and the idea was for them to not have to spent much time defending. The other midfielders formed a solid box with Alex Morgan running up top. On this night the formation worked as the Thorns appeared to have numbers up on both sides of the pitch.

“As we said in preseason about Mana, she came in great shape and looks like a different player from last year,” Riley said. “Her and Allie have a great chemistry together as you saw tonight and the goals were coming from that environment.”

The hosts thought they had the lead in the 20th minute after new Breakers’ captain Kassey Kallman gave the ball up in her defensive third to a pressing Long. Morgan ran onto the touch and sent it back to Long, who beat Alyssa Naeher but had the ball cleared off the line by a hustling Kallman. The Thorns thought the ball was across but it was ruled out for a corner kick. The corner made it a moot point as Long’s in-swinger was headed down to the back post on a clearing attempt by Kallman. Farrelly was there waiting and had an easy finish for her first goal as a Thorn.

[MORE: Veteran midfielder Zerboni happy for ‘fresh start’ in Portland]

The Breakers enjoyed some of their best moments of the match a few minutes later and forced Michelle Betos into a pair of athletic stops, first on Kristie Mewis and then Katie Schoepfer. Betos got the nod over Nadine Angerer who only arrived from Germany at the end of the week.

The Thorns’ second goal was started and finished by Shim. What could have been a dangerous free kick was taken quickly and Shim found herself on the ball better than 30 yards from goal. She played it wide to Johnson, who beat Maddy Evans and was able to get a cross off against two players. Several Breakers made passive attempts to reach it while Shim snuck into the 18, where she one-timed it home to double the advantage.

[MORE: Riley lauds Thorns’ midfield after dominant season-opening win]

One of the bright spots for the Breakers in the 1st half was McCaffrey, the 5th overall pick. The local product showed an ability to hold up the ball and the patience to make productive plays on it. She was rewarded in the 63rd minute when she took a pass from Katie Schoepfer, dribbled around Kat Williamson and beat Betos with a bullet from just inside the box.

Shim and Long took the match over after 70 minutes were gone. Twice in succession Long took passes from Shim, beat Cat Whitehill to her right, and made a professional finishes. The first goal came in the 71st minute, the second in the 72nd.

The Thorns (1-0-0, 3 points) will remain at Providence Park to play the Western New York Flash next Saturday. The Breakers (0-1-0, 0 points) get a week off before hosting the Dash in their new home, Soldiers Field.

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