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  • 18 Sep 2014

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Thorns face key week after defensive letdown

The Portland Thorns FC deserved more from Sunday afternoon’s match against the Chicago Red Stars than a draw.

The Thorns outshot the Red Stars 16-15 and put six balls on frame to five Chicago shots on goal. But that did even come close to telling the story.

Thorns striker Christine Sinclair scored twice, breaking a slump that dated to May 25.

Midfielder Tobin Heath assisted on both Sinclair goals, and Meleana Shim added a goal as the Thorns took a 3-1 lead in the 63rd minute.

The defense could not hold on. Portland gave up two goals in the last half hour of the National Women's Soccer League match and walked away with a 3-3 tie before an announced crowd of 12,534 at Jeld-Wen Field.

“Chicago is a tough team to play against,” Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. “Give them credit. They stuck with their game plan, and they kept fighting the entire time. We went up 3-1, and they fought back and got a tie.

"We’ve got to be better down the stretch. We’ve got to be able to hold a 3-1 lead. We lost marks in the box, continued to allow service and couldn’t get good clearance.”

As the match began, the Thorns (9-4-4, 31 points) asserted their dominance, moving the ball up the pitch easily with crisp passes and preventing the Red Stars (6-7-5, 23) from gaining momentum on the attack.

The Thorns went up 1-0 in the 23rd minute, when Sinclair outsmarted Chicago.

Thorns midfielder Tobin Heath lined up for a free kick from 22 yards. Heath sent a soft volley into the box. Sinclair timed her run perfectly, waiting until the ball was in the air but trying to chase it down before any of the Red Stars defenders could react to it. When Sinclair reached the ball, she was seven yards from the goal, without a marker, and she effortlessly put the ball inside the left post.

“Tobin and I were lining up (for the free kick), and she asked if I wanted to hit it,” Sinclair said. “It was kind of at a weird angle, so I told her, ‘No, I don’t want to shoot from here, but you can chip it over the wall.’ That’s what she did.”

The Thorns continued to dominate, for the most part, pushing the ball into dangerous positions and keeping Chicago on its heels.

In the 54th minute, Sinclair almost had another goal. She chased down a ball in the box, made a fake and got Chicago goalkeeper Erin McLeod to leave her line, giving Sinclair a clear look at goal. Sinclair put the ball off the side of the net, though, and slammed the ground with her fists in disgust.

A minute later, Portland striker Alex Morgan dribbled into the 18-yard box. With two defenders bearing down on her, Morgan slid a pass to Shim, who knocked in a left-footed shot to the right of McLeod. That gave the Thorns a 2-0 lead.

The Red Stars answered in the 60th minute.

Alyssa Mautz dribbled to the left side of the box and fired a rocket that stayed under the crossbar and found the back of the net, to the far post, well out of the reach of goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.

In the 63rd minute, Sinclair made up for her previous misfire. She got a pass from Heath inside the 6-yard box. Sinclair dribbled around McLeod and again had an empty net. This time, Sinclair put the shot away, and Portland led 3-1.

“Tobin played in another great ball, and I was able to slip in and get to it,” Sinclair said.

After Sinclair’s sixth goal of the season, the Thorns began playing more conservatively, dropping numbers back on defense in order to prevent a Chicago goal.

That backfired in the 75th minute, as Mautz scored her second goal of the match.

Defender Rachel Quon sent a pass that reached Mautz nine yards from goal. Mautz headed the ball to the right post, past the outstretched hand of LeBlanc, to make the score 3-2.

Portland almost got another goal, but Tiffany Weimer, who substituted for Morgan in the 74th minute, was called offside on a screaming shot that found the net.

The Thorns nearly allowed the equalizer — and Mautz nearly got a hat trick — in the 84th minute.

Substitute striker Inka Grings took a shot from distance that bounced off the crossbar. LeBlanc was slow reacting to the ball, then tried to punch it out. The ball went to Mautz, but Thorns defender Kathryn Williamson was there to deflect her shot attempt and keep the Thorns in the lead.

In the 86th minute, though, the Thorns gave up the tying goal.

Portland was unable to clear a ball in the box, and the ball went to the feet of Red Stars midfielder Julianne Sitch, who capitalized and made the score 3-3.

The Thorns now face a key week in the NWSL season, playing two home matches against clubs also contending for first place.

Portland will play Sky Blue FC on Wednesday and FC Kansas City on Sunday.

Kansas City has the top spot in the standings, with 35 points in 19 matches. Sky Blue and Portland are tied for second with 31 points; Sky Blue has played 18 games, Portland 17. The Western New York Flash are fourth with 27 points in 17 games.

Kansas City is 10-4-5, Sky Blue 9-5-4, Portland 9-4-4 and Western New York 7-4-6.

When Portland takes the pitch again, Cone wants to see much better defense from her squad.

“We’ll take a look at the tape and look at the things that broke down,” Cone said. “I’m happy we scored three goals, but you can’t give up three goals.”