On what should have been a day to celebrate the return of the NWSL regular season, Sunday in Portland turned into an evening to forget for the Chicago Red Stars as they were blanked 5-0 by the Thorns at Providence Park.
Portland seized the lead less than four minutes in on a cross from Sophia Smith that deflected off Red Stars defender Tierna Davidson for an own-goal. There was hardly a time to take a breath before the Thorns won a penalty via a Mallory Pugh foul on Megan Klingenberg, which was calmly dispatched by Christine Sinclair for her 56th career NWSL goal.
Smith scored the games next two goals, both beginning with long balls from Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch to fellow forward Morgan Weaver who provided the assists that put Portland ahead 4-0 inside of half an hour.
“The list could probably be pretty long on that,” said defender Casey Krueger on what went wrong to begin the game. “We came out flat, we weren’t ready, and we got broken down in many different ways. But I do think we’ll learn from this game…it’s game one and we can move forward and learn.”
The Thorns were ferocious on offense, the combination of Smith, Sinclair, Weaver, Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan looking in midseason form. Despite the quality of the opponent, Red Stars head coach Rory Dames didn’t use it as an excuse for his team’s performance.
“I don’t think we weren’t prepared for them,” Dames said, the Red Stars having faced the Thorns in the Challenge Cup just a few weeks ago. “I think we just made some bad decisions. And Portland’s a team that will punish you for those. But if you’re going to let team score off constant punts and goal kicks in this league, you’re not going to have a lot of success”
In addition to being in such a deep hole so quickly, the Red Stars lost Julie Ertz in the first half to a right knee injury. Dames said Ertz will have an MRI on Monday and didn’t want to speculate on the type or severity of the injury.
“Julie’s a pretty tough woman,” Dames said of the Red Stars’ captain. “We certainly want to make sure we can do everything we can to have her ready for the Olympics. We know how important she is to that team and our team.”
Dames said he was disappointed that his players often didn’t seem they wanted the ball at their feet, complimenting Mallory Pugh as one of few exceptions. The players know they weren’t good enough, and that they’ll have to be better against Gotham FC next weekend.
“I think we should remember how it feels to be down like that,” said rookie defender Tatumn Milazzo, who entered the match as a halftime substitute. “I think we should learn from it and try to not let it happen again, and then be on top of the next one be on the front foot in the next game and move forward.”