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Thorns build on opening match

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Alex Morgan gets a hug from Christine Sinclair (12) after the two combined on Portland's second goal (Morgan scoring, Sinclair assisting) Sunday at Jeld-Wen Field, where the Thorns beat Seattle Reign FC 2-1 in their home opener.Portland Thorns FC midfielder Nikki Washington says the inaugural match in the new National Women’s Soccer League at FC Kansas City was “exactly an opening game.”

In other words, “We’re not where we want to be.”

But, after battling to a 1-1 draw on the road, the Thorns are ready to show their stuff at home.

Their inaugural match at Jeld-Wen Field is 2 p.m. Sunday against Seattle Reign FC.

The Portland-Seattle rivalry has been one of the fiercest in North American men’s soccer.

Both Washington and Thorns midfielder Becky Edwards hope the rivalry carries over to the women’s league.

“That’s part of the fun of it,” Washington says. “Walking around town, you get teased a little bit by people saying, ‘You can’t come back here if you lose. You can’t show your face.’ I like how it carries over. Rivalries are always a good part of sports.”

Edwards says: “It’s good for the women’s game. If we can build that rivalry here in the Northwest, it will draw attention from all over the country. People will want to tune in and see that game. People want to see that kind of excitement.”

The Thorns were behind almost from the opening whistle in their debut in Overland Park, Kan. Three minutes into the match, FC Kansas City striker Renae Cuellar put the ball in the back of the net.

But the Thorns played much better in the second half, linking passes and creating dangerous opportunities.

“In the first half, they had more of the ball,” Edwards says. “But we recognized that as a team, and turned that around in the second half. Our pressure in the second half was better, and we had more goal-scoring opportunities.

“Our urgency and our fight in the second half were better. Realizing what we needed to improve on during the game was a step in the right direction.”

The Thorns pulled even with a 67th-minute penalty kick by striker Christine Sinclair.

“We have a good fighting mentality,” Washington says. “We’re able to persevere through situations. We came back and put together a much better second half. We worked really hard all the way around.”

It was not everything the Thorns would have liked from their opening match, but it was a road game and several Portland players had missed training because of national team duty.

“To go into Kansas City and play in front of their crowd, we’re happy getting a point on the road,” Edwards says. “We’re not satisfied; we would’ve liked to come out with three points. But we’ll take the one point for the first game of the season. We haven’t had our full team together very long. We’ll work on some things and get better.”

Group cohesion is one of the things Washington says Portland needs to improve the most.

“We need to learn each other’s tendencies and how we play,” she says. “That’ll take a little bit of time, but we’re all good players and know how to play the game, so that should come together pretty quickly.”