Portland, Or – In what would be a tightly contested match, the third ranked Portland Thorns fell to fifth ranked Sky Blue 3-1. It would only take 30 seconds for Sky Blue to get on the board with forward Sam Kerr making her way up the right side of the field and crossing it center to a waiting Raquel Rodriguez who placed it just out of Adrianna Franch’s reach. While the Thorns immediately made several counter attacks, they could not break through the Sky Blue defense.
Sky Blue defender Kayla Mills gave the performance of the night, repeatedly preventing Portland from getting any clear shot on goal. Her strength combined with fellow defenders Mandy Freeman and veteran Christie Pearce made breaking through the New Jersey back-line almost impossible.
Sinclair came close in the 9th minute outpacing the defenders to face the goalie one-on-one, only to go a foot wide of the net. However, Sky Blue’s defense wasn’t the only strength of team, with the majority of the match played on the Thorns’ end of the field. Tight passing combined with explosive runs gave New Jersey solid control of the game. Sky Blue also made a point to help out on defense, swarming in the box, making it hard for Portland to connect their own passes.
Sky Blue almost added another goal to their score with a penalty kick called in the box in the 32nd minute against Celeste Boureille. With shoulder to shoulder contact clearly being shown on the replay, the crowd reacted to one of many calls that they considered questionable. Luckily, the penalty was missed, going wide of the goal.
The tone of the game changed quickly to chippy plays that stoked fires on the field. One incident came when Long and O’Hara got tangled up and began jawing at one another. While Long jumped to O’Hara forcing a hug and easing the situation, First official Timothy Ford still took it upon himself to stop play and waited several minutes to get Long’s attention and bring her over for a talk, gaining huge boos from the crowd.
Soon after Long took a shot to the face when Menges tried to clear the ball in the 42nd. This caused play to stop while she treated for what appeared to be a bloody nose. Then, a small players rivalry was born between Thorns Hayley Raso and Sky Blue’s Kayla Mills when Mills dragged Raso down just outside the box earning a free kick. This was the first of many encounters between the two players.
Portland came out stronger in the second half but was still not able to break through the Sky Blue back-line. Referee Timothy Ford appeared reluctant to call anything on the Sky Blue defense, encouraging tougher play in the back. After several uncalled fouls and an especially hard tackle by Mills in the 57th minute, Ford to ordered Mills to settle down. In fact in the 67th after Leah Galton went down with an injury, garnering boos for staying on the pitch for treatment, Timothy Ford followed dissenting Thorns players around the field.
Only a few minutes later in the 70th, New Jersey’s Samantha Kerr gave Sky Blue their second goal, going one-on-one with Franch and easily sending it to the back of the net. Following her goal she gave an impressive double back flip. The Thorns answered immediately with Horan heading the ball into the net, however no score given due to a controversial offsides being called.
The Thorns charged again leading to Raso being taken down by a hard tackle just outside the box. Instead of just issuing a card, Ford chose to once again take valuable time off of the clock, spending over a minute talking to O’Hara before finally showing her the yellow. He talked to O’Hara for so long that the Sky Blue captain came over, along with Meghan Klingenberg who obviously pointed to the clock asking him to hurry up. However Ford made it obvious that he would determine the pace of the game.
Calling back two goal kicks from Franch, Ford’s pace affected the Thorns’ ability to build momentum. However, the pace suited Sky Blue just fine, as they slowed down the tempo even further with substitutions. It would be in the 88th that Samantha Kerr earned a brace and killed all hopes of a Thorns comeback.
Although the loss felt inevitable, the crowd became even more involved due to what they felt was several uncalled fouls. Just as full time was reached Raso was dragged down by Sky Blue’s Nikki Stanton, while raising both hands in the air looking directly at the referee. Ford obliged, giving the foul, which led to Stanton shoving Raso. Ford showed her a yellow and had his card out again minutes later when Amandine Henry dragged down a player in retaliation.
The highlight for the crowd came in stoppage when Klingenberg earned a Thorns penalty kick after being taken down in the box by Mills. Sinclair stepped up to the spot and kicked the penalty straight into Sky Blue keeper, Kailen Sheridan. Luckily Sheridan couldn’t hold onto it and Sinclair quickly followed her shot putting it away for the only Portland goal of the night.
There is no taking away from the stalwart defense and the clever Sky Blue game plan. Referee aside, that would have been a tough game for the Thorn’s to win. Thorns Keeper Adrianna Franch acknowledged there was room for improvement saying, “We will do a little bit of analyzation, and get back to the grind. I don’t think we came out mentally strong enough.”
However, referees are not above criticism and a bad game doesn’t make a bad referee. This was not a great game for first official Timothy Ford. Slowing the tempo of the game during several crucial moments, falling for clever embellishments (from both sides) and taking several minutes off the clock to lecture players without a doubt affected the game. Refs don’t have the luxury of instant replays, however that felt like a team fail for the officials.