Former Thorns stick it to Portland
The spirited crowd of 16,094 that showed up on Saturday to watch the Portland Thorns battle the Seattle Reign might have been unique a decade ago, but when Thorns coach Mark Parsons pointed out how soccer has changed in the last 10 years, he was not talking about the attendance.
Following a wild 3-2 loss to the Reign, the Thorns coach was commenting on seeing five former Thorns in Seattle's lineup — noting that professional soccer players, women or men, never used to move from one side of a rivalry to the other.
But there they were, five former Thorns — including two of the more popular players in club history — back in Portland to torment their old club.
Allie Long got the most notoreity, naturally. In five seasons, she was part of two championship teams in Portland, established herself as a regular with the U.S. national team, and scored a lot of goals.
But it was Michelle Betos, the National Women's Soccer League goalkeeper of the year with Portland in 2015, who stole the show. Several of her eight saves were unlikely stops that frustrated a Thorns team that rained 24 shots at the Seattle goal.
"Credit to all the ex-Thorns — I thought they played well — and to the Seattle team," Parsons said, quickly turning his attention back to his squad. "I think for us, they could have had three goalkeepers in there. The chances we created … we can score those."
Some of the newest Thorns had their moments on Saturday.
Forward Ana Crnogorcevic was active and dangerous, though foiled by Betos on one of her best chances.
Midge Purce raced up and down the right wing with burgeoning confidence.
And, Andressinha was key to the Thorns grabbing hold of the second-half tempo.
But the former Thorns stuck it to Portland.
Jodie Taylor, the English forward who holds the record for career goals at Oregon State, converted a penalty kick.
Steph Catley assisted on the game-winning goal.
And Alyssa Kleiner, signed by Seattle just days before the match, provided important cover late as Portland pushed hard for a third goal.
It was an emotional day for Lang. When it was over, she spoke about not fully understanding how popular she was with Thorns fans.
"When I left, I didn't realize, I guess, how much people really love me, the fans and everything," she said. "It was overwhelming how much love I felt. I was so grateful for them, they almost brought me to tears. It was awesome."
So was playing again at Providence Park, even as a villain.
"Whether I'm on the Thorns or the Reign, this environment is the best place to play in, and you want that as a player," Long said. "Even though they're cheering for (the Thorns), you still feel their energy. I was hyped the whole time.
"My calves started to cramp fairly early, and (the fans) helped me keep going, even though they were cheering for them (the Thorns)."
Long said she is having fun with Seattle and is excited about the potential for her midfield partnership with Rumi Utsugi, the Japanese national teamer whose perfectly placed shot won for Seattle. This was just their second match together.
Plus, Seattle expects former Portland Pilots star Megan Rapinoe back from her hamstring injury soon.
"When we have everyone, we're going to be a really fun team to play for," Long said.
The same can be said for the Thorns, who are easing Tobin Heath back to full strength and easing Andressinha into her midfield partnership with Lindsey Horan.
When Heath and Andressinha came on in the second half, the Thorns' possession went from 46 percent in the first half to 61 percent the rest of the way. Portland took 17 second-half shots, eight on target and one off the crossbar.
For all of that encouraging work, the Thorns continued to battle two trends that have limited their success: They have fallen behind in four consecutive games and trailed in five of their six matches. And, Portland's forwards have not scored a goal this season.
"We have to start to (score) the first goal. That would be a good step for us and will help us," Crnogorcevic said.
A first goal would help the Swiss forward, too. Against Seattle, her momentum took her away from an open goal on a first-half chance. In the second half, Betos made a sprawling play to block a close-range chance.
Crnogorcevic was frustrated, too, that she committed the foul that resulted in Taylor's penalty kick.
Three weeks into her time with Portland, Crnogorcevic is adjusting to a new league, club and city.
"It's top speed and it's more physical than in Europe. But it makes it so much fun," she said. "We have so many good players on our team, and it's so much fun to play with them. I hope we can grow together. I've been here for three weeks, so we just have to (get to) know each other."
Games at 5 p.m. PT Wednesday at Houston and 12:30 p.m. Saturday at home against Orlando will present the Thorns with chances to move that chemistry process forward.
Parsons praised the work of Crnogorcevic in pressuring Seattle's defense during her first full match for the Thorns. He said he is encouraged by what he's seen from Crnogorcevic, Andressinha and Ellie Carpenter (who hasn't yet played for Portland) in the brief time they've been with the Thorns.
"Everything's brand-new right now. This rivalry game is brand-new to them," Parsons said. "Every week and every experience we get to work with them, I think things continue to improve."
• The NWSL championship match will be played on Sept. 22 at Providence Park, the second time in three years Portland has hosted the title game. In 2015, FC Kansas City beat Seattle here for the title.
• Those who haven't looked at the MLS standings for a while might be surprised to see the Timbers only two points out of third place in the Western Conference. Three consecutive wins have buoyed the Timbers (3-3-2, 11 points). Saturday's 1-0 win at San Jose came (how else?) from a bit of Diego Valeri magic, as he curved in a free kick in the 88th minute.
The game did not feature much scintillating soccer. But the Timbers continue to look like a confident group, and goalkeeper Jeff Attinella came up big several times.
Portland enters Sunday's 1 p.m. visit from Seattle in a much better place than the Sounders (1-4-2, 5 points). Seattle has been shut out five times and scored only five goals this season. Adding to the Sounders' challenge this week is a Wednesday trip to Toronto for a rematch of the last two MLS Cup championship games.