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History repeats itself as Portland loses out on Shield

Crystal Dunn (19 Portland Thorns FC) and Ally Schlegel (34 Chicago Red Stars) battle for the ball during the NWSL football match between the Chicago Red Stars and Portland Thorns FC on Sunday June 18 at Seat Geek stadium, Bridgeview, USA. (Shaina Benhiyoun/SPP)

Last year, Portland went into the final weekend of the regular season in a position to win the Shield and missed out by drawing Gotham. This past weekend, Portland found themselves in the same exact position, the top of the table needing three points to close out the race for the Shield, but again fell short, falling to Angel City 5-1 in the Thorns biggest loss of the year.

“It was all around just poor,” Thorns midfielder and NWSL assist leader Sam Coffey stated. “I think we lost our cool in two really key moments when they scored their first goal and then at halftime, the first goal after the half. Those are moments we need to be better. I think we’re all… disappointed doesn’t cut it, or it’s not even the right word. I think I’m in shock, like, I can’t believe that just happened. But we’re also a championship team and we need to take what we can and not allow this to deter what we still have in front of us. But yeah, it was disappointing. Doesn’t begin to explain it.”

“I didn’t think we started the game bad at all,” Thorns head coach Mike Norris said after the match. “We lost the game in two five minutes spells… So yeah, tough one. It’s real tough at this point. It’s gonna hurt for a while, this, and then we’re gonna have to take the time to have a look at that and find, try and find a reason, and go towards that.”

Back in 2022, after going down 1-0 in the 39th minute, Portland would go onto score three in response but ultimately let Gotham tie the match in the second half. Just a few hours later, rival OL Reign would go on to handedly beat Orlando 3-0 to take the NWSL Shield, only one point ahead of the Thorns.

Most of the 2023 Thorns roster remembers that pain from ’22. “The part that kills me is that we did this last year,” stated Meghan Klingenberg. “You’re supposed to learn from moments that happen to you and to your team in big games. So that part to me is the most disappointing, is that we have been in tough matches and tough positions before and showed up and done big things. We just didn’t do that.”

Although the Thorns have been fairly explosive throughout the year, they have been affected by a lack of defensive consistency. Sam Coffey addressed this vulnerability, stating, “we have been all over the place this year, and that’s unacceptable. We need to let [this] sting because we’re ballin’ and looking like a Championship team some days and then looking like we’re at the bottom of the table on other days. I think we’re our own worst enemy at times. We allow the momentum of other teams to affect us too much”

“We could have won the Shield games ago had we taken care of that consistency earlier in the season. So we’re paying the price now – like 100%, we’re paying the price for it. That has to hurt right now. We have to learn from it. We have two more games left and we need to be consistent.

The Thorns have 21 days between their loss to Angel City and their next matchup, thanks to a quarterfinal bye for finishing second as well as a FIFA break.

“Maybe it’s a positive that we have a bit of time, but yeah, just thinking about the fact we’ve got a semifinal doesn’t really excite us right now,” said Norris. “We’ll shift gears for sure. We need to, but we need a feel this. We need to learn from it and then we need to look at what that’s semifinal looks like and how do we tackle that and put on the Thorns to performance that we want to.”

Meghan Klingenberg talked about moving forward, stating that “the best thing that we could do now is honestly let go of it and move on and work on things that we want to get better at. But honestly, the thing that’s going to be most important is just letting it go and coming back to our practices and just getting after it. Because we’ve been putting in good practices, we’ve been putting in good minutes throughout the week. And so it’s surprising to me that that was the performance that happened.”

“The part that’s tough is we have FIFA dates, so we can’t really come together,” explained Klingenberg. “I think the team needs to go away and be upset for a little bit because that’s okay. But then when we come back together, it’s getting after it and putting in the work in practice… just supporting each other, getting after it with each other.”

Last year, the Thorns rebounded after losing out on the Shield to win the Championship in a dominant fashion. Only time will tell if they can repeat their comeback this year.

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