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Thorns stick it to Seattle

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Alex Morgan gets a hug from Christine Sinclair (12) after they combined on Portland's second goal (Morgan scoring, Sinclair assisting) Sunday at Jeld-Wen Field, where the Thorns beat the Seattle Reign FC 2-1 in their home opener.The Portland Thorns FC introduced the Rose City to the National Women’s Soccer League with a fireworks show Sunday afternoon.

Playing against the Seattle Reign FC at Jeld-Wen Field, the Thorns dominated the match from beginning to end.

Portland defender Marian Dougherty scored a goal in the 45th minute, and striker Alex Morgan scored in the 52nd minute.

Despite giving up a late goal, the Thorns were able to treat the announced crowd of 16,479 to a 2-1 win.

“We went to work this week, correcting the things we needed to correct and making sure we were all on the same page,” said Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone, who drew 1-1 at FC Kansas City last week in their opener.

“It felt like the atmosphere that we had at the World Cup and at the Olympics," Parlow Cone said. "The girls were very focused. They were very tuned in and dialed in.”

The Thorns (1-0-1, 4 points) bullied the Reign (0-1-1, 1 point) in every statistical category. Portland had 11 shots to seven for Seattle, and put five shots on goal to the Reigns' two.

It was also a rough match, with six yellow cards handed out — three to each club.

The Thorns were much more prepared for the start of the match than they were last week, when they went down a goal in the third minute. Portland asserted its dominance over Seattle early, setting the tone for the rhythm and tempo of the match.

Portland controlled possession up and down the pitch and moved the ball methodically and carefully into the attacking third. The Thorns spent the first half of the match searching always for their two dangerous strikers — Morgan and Christine Sinclair.

In the early part of the match, the Reign marked Morgan and Sinclair well and prevented the Thorns from finding them.

In the 35th minute, Morgan narrowly missed scoring an out-of-this-world goal. Morgan had the ball inside the 18-yard box, with only Reign defender Elli Reed between her and the goal. Morgan turned her back to Reed like an NBA center posting up. Morgan then spun around with the ball and created space between herself and Reed. With Seattle goalkeeper Michelle Betos out of position, Morgan fired at the right post.

The ball was destined to find the back of the net before Reign defender Emily Zurrer got a boot on it at the goal line and deflected the shot out of bounds.

In the 45th minute, the Thorns finally were rewarded for their dominance.

Portland midfielder Nikki Washington lined up for a free kick from 40 yards. She sent a dime slicing into the box. Dougherty rushed toward the pass and over-ran it slightly. The Thorns defender was still able to get the back of her head on the ball, though. Dougherty got enough on the ball that she was able to redirect it and send it just inside the right post, past Betos.

“I knew where my run was supposed to be,” Dougherty said. “Nikki just hit a perfect ball, and I beat their player to it and got my head on it and was able to flick it into the corner.”

Seconds later, the half ended with the Thorns leading 1-0.

The Thorns carried the momentum from the first half into the second half.

In the 52nd minute, they struck gold, as Morgan scored her first goal with Portland.

Sinclair took the ball down the right side. She sent a cross into the 18-yard box past two Reign defenders. The ball found Morgan in stride with no one around her. Morgan took a touch and then sent a shot to the right post. The shot went true, and Portland had a 2-0 lead.

"'Sinc’ has great vision and awareness of her teammates in open space,” Morgan said. “She played a great through-ball. I knew that if I placed it far post that I’d beat the keeper. It was a great buildup and a great move by Sinc to have the vision to see me running down the field.”

The Reign would not go quietly into the afternoon, though. In the 74th minute, they put a ball into the box that bounced around several Portland defenders and Seattle attackers.

The ball finally came down at the feet Jessica Fishlock. The Reign midfielder took a touch and then sent a screaming shot just inside the left post, past Portland goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.

“The ball came in and somehow (Fishlock) ended up with it,” LeBlanc said.

Trailing 2-1, the Reign began throwing numbers forward, trying desperately to find the equalizer.

The Thorns defense held firm, though, and Portland walked off the pitch with the first win in franchise history.

Parlow Cone said much work remains to be done before next Saturday, when Portland plays on the road against the Chicago Red Stars.

“We’ve got to build on this,” Parlow Cone said. “Are we excited that we got three points? Of course. But it wasn’t a stellar performance. It was a good performance, a solid performance. But our goal is to continue to get better week-in and week-out. We’ve got to continue to get better when we go to Chicago.”

NOTES: Thorns reserve defender Jazmyne Avant sang the National Anthem before the match. … Reign goalkeeper Hope Solo missed the match while recovering from surgery on her wrist. … Cheryl Bailey, the executive director of the National Women’s Soccer League was in Portland to watch the match. … The announced crowd of 16,479 is the NWSL record.