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A Thorn in The Side: Portland Thorns 3, Chicago Red Stars 0

A 3-0 loss to the Thorns puts Chicago’s playoff hopes in jeopardy.

Justyne Freud

The Chicago Red Stars ended the match with 9 players and 0 points after what was a poor performance against top-of-the-league Portland. 3-0 was the final score in a match that was dominated by the league leaders.

The first looks at goal for both sides came through their respective star forward players. Sophia Smith of the Thorns nearly found the back of the net in the 17th minute with a long ranged effort with her left foot. To the great relief of a diving Alyssa Naeher however, Smith’s shot was just wide of the post.

Then came Mal Pugh. In the 25th minute, effort from distance forced a great diving save from Thorn’s keeper, Bella Bixby, to keep the game at 0-0.

Smith nearly found the back of the net again in the 30th minute. A deceptive turn allowed Smith to break through the Red Stars’ last line of defense and put her one on one with Naeher. The Red Stars’ defense was bailed out by Naeher as she made a great save to deny Smith.

The Thorns continued to press on and in the 38th minute, Red Stars center-back, Zoey Morse, was forced into the splits as she made a great block on what would have most certainly been Christine Sinclair’s sixth goal of the season.

Christine Sinclair almost found the back of the net again in the 41st minute. Sinclair was unmarked on a corner kick and had a free header, but luckily, the effort was directed right at Naeher who made a comfortable save.

The breakthrough for Portland came just three minutes into the second half. Morgan Weaver was able to receive a ball out on the left wing before driving into the box and cutting the ball back onto her left foot. At this point, she had gotten away from Red Stars defender, Arin Wright, and was able to take on the shot and put it into the far post to make it 1-0 to the home team.

The turning point in the match came in the 58th minute however when Red Stars wingback, Bianca St-Georges, was sent off. An unprofessional moment in which St-Georges expressed her frustration to the fourth official via an inappropriate gesture was enough to reduce the Red Stars to just ten players.

With the player advantage, it took Portland just three minutes to double their lead. Sophia Smith’s s ball across the six-yard box found the oncoming Morgan Weaver, who stroked the ball home first time to put her on a brace for the afternoon.

Unconvincing in defense, the Red Stars allowed back-to-back chances in the 63rd and 64th. Hina Sugita pounced upon a poor clearance that fell inside the Red Stars’ box. Her effort just missed the frame of the goal But seconds later, Sophia Smith was allowed to test Naeher from inside the six-yard box. Naeher was forced to come up huge again to deny Smith.

Smith had been turning the Red Stars’ defenders with ease on Sunday afternoon, and in the 68th minute, Smith again spun her defender to put her in another dangerous spot in front of goal. It wasn’t to to be for Smith in terms of goals, however, as her effort inside the box just missed the frame of the goal.

Weaver should have made it a hat trick in the 79th minute when she put Sophia Smith’s cross over the net from inside the six-yard box. A golden chance was created by Smith, who again turned her defender to create the scoring opportunity.

The cherry on top for the Thorns came in the 3rd minute of second-half stoppage time to make it 3-0, just minutes after Chicago lost another player to a disciplinary issue. Zoe Morse this time pulled back Hina Sugita after being beat one on one and was shown her second yellow card of the game, forcing Chicago to play with just 9 for the final 7 minutes of the match.

Chicago looked completely out of this match in terms of scoring chances, not threatening a single time in the second half. Not only was the Red Stars offense unable to create chances and find the back of the net, but also were unconvincing in defense.

The sending off of St-Georges with over a half hour of regulation time left to play proved pivotal. The Thorns capitalized just minutes after her sending-off to put the game out of reach for Chicago and finally killed the game with the third goal after Morse’s second yellow.

The loss means that Chicago’s playoff hopes are out of their hands. Although they can still qualify for the playoffs, they are now dependent on the results of other teams.

Come the end of NWSL Week 21, the Red Stars sit one point and place out of the playoffs in 7th. With the 5th placed Houston Dash three points ahead and with a goal difference three better than Chicago, the only team that Chicago can realistically jump to sneak back into the playoff spots is 6th placed North Carolina.

In order to do this, Chicago needs to beat Angel City, who will for sure be playing the game of their lives as they also hope to qualify for the playoffs on the final day of the season (Angel City sits just 2 points behind North Carolina). Not only does Chicago have to beat Angel City next week, but they also need North Carolina to lose to the San Diego Wave to qualify.

The Red Stars play their final regular season game at home at 5 PM on Sunday.