Portland Thorns Breaks In With Confidence-Boosting Win; Timbers’ turnaround continues: Soccer Weekend
WakeMed Soccer Park has been a major obstacle for the Portland Thorns in recent seasons. Although they are constantly in contention for the NWSL Shield and are almost in playoff contention every year, the Thorns hadn’t won in Cary, North Carolina, since Courage moved. of western New York in 2017.
That changed last weekend when the Thorns beat Courage 1-0 and came away with all three points. They made a statement, and while it put a mental barrier on them, the result also matters for the future.
Over the years, the regular-season clashes between Portland and North Carolina have often served as midseason tests to determine where the two NWSL titans actually stand. Despite the consistent talent of both teams, the Thorns had always struggled to find this victory in Cary.
Is victory a sign of things to come? At the very least, it should serve to build confidence in the future, as the team now knows they can win at WakeMed Soccer Park. He has done this before.
Yet despite the afternoon’s many bright spots, coach Mark Parsons stressed the importance of not letting victory be a main hurdle, but just another part of the journey.
“We broke down and made a lot of history this year,” Parsons said. “The moment we focus on that, then (our focus) will be on the wrong thing. For us, the process is what is important and the journey is essential for us.
THORNS NEAR DEFENSIVE RECORD
As the old saying goes: “Defense wins championships. “
Portland has lived up to the saying throughout 2021, conceding just 11 goals overall, and currently sits with a league-best 14 goal differential.
Thorns’ defense this season has been so good it is approaching another record, maybe even under the radar. Their 1-0 victory in North Carolina was his 10th clean sheet. The club’s record? 11. If Parsons’ team keeps three clean sheets in their remaining five games, they will set a new league record.
“In every game we want a clean sheet,” said defender Kelli Hubly. “Every game we don’t want anyone to score on us. So that’s something we strive for.
In years past, Portland was known as a team teeming with attacking talent, but in the greatest moments it’s the defense that slips. When the Thorns won the shield in 2016, they failed to advance to the championship game after losing 4-3 to the Western New York Flash in that year’s semifinal. In 2018, they fell to Courage 3-0 in a championship game held at Providence Park.
But this season promises something different. Portland is perhaps the strongest on the defensive end of the ball since Parsons arrived at Rose City. The Thorns have won numerous games and trophies over the past calendar year due to their defensive performances. Add that to the offensive firepower they already have, and it adds to a team that are surely among the favorites to win their third NWSL Championship.
RACE FOR THE SHIELD
With their win in North Carolina and then their forfeit victory over Washington, the Thorns remain atop the NWSL standings with 38 points, a place they’ve held since their eight-game unbeaten streak in the league this summer. OL Reign are six points behind Portland, while North Carolina and Orlando round out the top four.
In the past few years, only the top four teams have qualified for the playoffs. This year, however, the NWSL extended the playoffs from four to six teams. Because of that, both Washington and Chicago would be in the playoffs if they were to start today.
Now Portland’s attention is focused on claiming the NWSL Shield, a trophy awarded to the league’s top regular-season team. Parsons’ side only have five regular season games left, but that includes clashes against OL Reign, North Carolina, Houston (twice) and Kansas City. The Thorns haven’t won the Shield since 2016, but now have a very real chance to do so – and get a first-round playoff pass.
The game against OL Reign on October 2 and North Carolina on October 30 are both at home and could determine which team takes home the prestigious award this season.
FIGHT WITH BELIEF
The Timbers suffered many ups and downs throughout 2021, but on August 15 they hit their lowest point when an inconsistent streak of play resulted in a 6-2 loss to Seattle.
But since then, Portland has rebounded. After the heavy loss at home, the Timbers hit the road and took 10 points in five games. They kept three consecutive clean sheets and now occupy fifth place in the Western Conference.
There is perhaps no better example of the team’s turnaround than Wednesday night’s 2-2 draw against Colorado. Portland fell to 10 men in the first half, fell behind twice after the 60th minute and finally ended the night with a hard-fought point after midfielder Sebastián Blanco equalized in the stoppage time of the second half.
So what has changed? A positive momentum, certainly, but also less tangible things like the conviction of the team after having chained multiple positive results.
“We felt that we got a bit removed from who we are and we had to make sure that each player understands their role again,” said coach Giovanni Savarese. “It starts with morale, the environment, and believing that we had to bounce back after the game against Seattle, which was still in us. It became a motivation for us to make sure we were (on a) better path. “
DIEGO CHARA EXCEEDS 300 APPEARANCES
Timbers defensive midfielder Diego Chará made his 300th career appearance for the club in his 1-0 win over Vancouver on September 10.
The Colombian arrived from Deportes Tolima in 2011, just as Portland entered MLS, and played an important role in the club’s culture for the decade that followed.
As the Timbers’ very first designated player, Chará was not only an example of a solid international signing for the club, but he also subtly underscored the importance of using a prime spot to sign a talented defensive midfielder – someone who can put out constant fires and adapt to most tactical systems.
Since his first appearance in 2011, Chará has helped the Timbers win the Western Conference, the MLS Cup and the single MLS is Back Tournament. Individually, he was named MLS All-Star in 2019 and MLS Best XI in 2020.
In a 25-game streak between 2015 and 2019, the Timbers failed to win a single game without Chará. They went 0-15-10 during that span, further emphasizing the importance of their number six both on and off the pitch. He made his mark on the team and the city of Portland for over a decade, and fans remembered him after last Friday’s game.
“I think it’s the best way to get the 300th game for me, to get a win,” said Chará. “It’s been a long road to be here. I’m very happy and now the team is gaining confidence, scoring points and that’s very important for us at the moment.
INJURIES AND ABSENCES
The spikes: Parsons listed forward Simone charley (left knee) as questionable for the team’s game against North Carolina, but she was not part of the final game day roster.
Midfielder Celeste Boureille remains on the sidelines with an injury to his left wrist.
Drink : After missing last Friday’s game against Vancouver, the midfielder Diego Valeri (right leg) made a comeback in Savarese’s lineup against Colorado, but didn’t play.
The spikes: at the Chicago Red Stars, 5 p.m. Saturday, September 25 (Paramount +)
– Portland Timbers and Thorns FC