The Utah Royals’ defense, which the team has built its identity around this year, couldn’t hold up against a potent Portland attack at Providence Park on Friday night. The Royals lost to the Thorns 2-0, ending the Royals’ unbeaten streak at five matches.
• The Royals match the Thorns’ eight shots in a 2-0 loss.
• The Royals are shut out for the fourth time this season.
• Portland and Utah combine for 25 fouls.
The Royals walked into Providence Park coming off an impressive showing of three straight clean sheets, against Washington, Orlando and Houston. Thorns forward Christine Sinclair put that streak to rest in the 18th minute of Friday night’s match.
From the midfield, Sinclair lofted a volley over the Royals back line to Tobin Heath, making a run on the left side. Heath settled it with a cutback and stalled, drawing three defenders to her and allowing Sinclair to cut up the center of the field unmarked.
Heath played the ball to Sinclair at the top of the box. She took a touch to her left to find an open shot and drove it past a fully extended goalkeeper Abby Smith. The ball glanced off the inside of the near post and into the goal. It was the NWSL scoring leader’s sixth goal of the season.
Then 21 minutes later, the Thorns made Friday’s match just the second in Royals history that Utah allowed multiple goals. The Royals’ defense leads the league with the fewest goals conceded (seven).
Portland outside back Meghan Klinenberg set up the Thorns’ second goal of the night by pushing up the left side of the field and sending a cross into the box at the top of the 6-yard box. Smith leaped off her line to punch it away, but she missed. Thorns midfielder Lindsey Horan closed in on the far post and tapped the ball into the goal with her thigh.
While the Royals, too, had their first-half chances — a 6th-minute ball into the box by Katrina Gorry, a shot by Erika Tymrak at the top of the penalty area, a goal-line clearance in the 44th minute — Portland, with 11 crosses in the first half, used its lead to set the tone on the attack.
In the second half, although the Royals were down by two goals for the first time all season, they were able to stop the Thorns from scoring again.
The match turned chippy late in the second half, with three yellow cards issued after the 65th minute. Royals center back Rachel Corsie received hers after initiating some light shoving in the 69th minute. Players from both teams got involved, but the disagreement settled before turning into an all-out brawl.
It was the Royals’ first loss on the road, after claiming draws in all three other away matches.