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Portland Thorns defeat the Chicago Red Stars 3-2 in a potential playoff preview

It felt like a match weighted with post-season repercussions, and the Chicago Red Stars (8-4-5) and Portland Thorns (9-4-4) did not disappoint in a high-scoring affair that was ultimately won by Portland 3-2. The Thorns were able to put Chicago in a 2-0 hole in the first 9 minutes of the game, and while Chicago occasionally looked the better side, a header by defender Emily Sonnett off a dead ball play in the 55th minute put the game away for the visitors.

After a game last week against the Orlando Pride that showcased their depth, the Red Stars were back at full strength on Saturday, with USWNT players Christen Press, Julie Ertz, and Casey Short back in the starting lineup. Portland was also bolstered by international returns, with Nadia Nadim available on the bench after her starring turn for Denmark in the 2017 Euro’s, leading them to the final of that tournament.

The scoring in this match started early and often, when in the 3rd minute Hayley Raso was able to get behind the Chicago defense and fight off Sam Johnson enough to stay on her feet and poke the ball past Chicago keeper Alyssa Naeher (who has had an interesting couple of weeks in goal for both club and country). Portland then pounced on the ensuing confusion from the Chicago back line to score a great team goal in the 9th minute, with a passing sequence that went through 3 Portland players to land at the feet of Christine Sinclair, who sent the shot home at close range.

However, after a very touchy start, Chicago started to show their class and work themselves back into the match. The Red Stars aren’t a team that necessarily strategizes to possess and poke holes in defenses, usually preferring to utilize their speed on counter-attacks, but they settled well and were able to keep the ball away from the dangerous Portland midfield for much of the rest of the half. And only 7 minutes after the Thorns put themselves up 2-0, Christen Press got Chicago back on the board, sending in a rebound from a shot from distance from Alyssa Mautz.

Chicago continued to press forward for much of the first half, and were rewarded for their efforts in the 37th minute when Julie Ertz battled to get the ball in front of Portland’s goal, dropping the ball off for Sofia Huerta, who was able to even the score at 2-2 with a rocket from close range. Despite this momentum shift, and Chicago trying to ride the wave into a third goal, the half would end all tied up.

After the acrobatics of the first half, the second half of this match was a remarkably even affair. Chicago looked the more calm in possession for much of the run of play, but Portland’s defense never looked fully pulled out of shape, and they kept the Red Stars from getting many good looks in front of goal. One could feel that Chicago’s inability to put the Thorns away would come back to haunt them, and Portland did ultimately make them pay in the 55th minute, when a free kick from outside the box was bent in beautifully by Meghan Klingenberg, and headed home by Emily Sonnett. Portland has been deadly on dead ball plays for most of the season, and they were able to convert once again.

As Chicago pushed for an equalizer late in the game, play began to get a bit chippy – Portland substitute Tyler Lussi had a particularly egregious foul against Danny Colaprico that deserves a review for the upcoming weeks – but Portland’s defense held firm. One bright spot for Chicago within a frustrating second half was the NWSL debut of Yuki Nagasoto, who will certainly bolster the Red Stars play for the rest of the season, but Portland ultimately took this one 3-2, and leapfrogged Chicago to take the 2nd place spot in the NWSL table. Both teams have quick turnarounds, playing midweek fixtures, Chicago trying to bounce back against the Seattle Reign and Portland taking on FC Kansas City, on Wednesday.


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