Portland Thorns FC put on quite a show
Contrary to the way it is often described, the Pacific Northwest is not an especially rainy place during the height of summer. A deluge of goals, on the other hand, is an increasingly common phenomenon wherever the city's soccer team takes the field these days.
Behind Christine Sinclair's hat trick, the first in the history of the franchise that won the first National Women's Soccer League championship a season ago, Portland Thorns FC beat Boston Breakers 6-3 on Sunday to continue a stretch of potency it hopes won't be too little too late in the playoff race.
For the third time in a month and the second time in eight days, Portland piled up at least six goals. It also played the biggest part in a game that broke the league record for combined goals -- a mark Portland helped set a week ago in a 7-1 win against FC Kansas City.
Player of the game: Vero Boquete. Fans of the NWSL saw what they have come to expect from Boquete, the Spanish star who is in her first season in the league. New viewers who tuned in to the nationally televised game saw a reason to come back for more. Sinclair's finishing wasn't just historic but also typically and subtly tremendous. Alex Morgan repeatedly impressed, both in creating space and opportunity for herself on a goal and playing in combination with Sinclair. But Boquete drove the game, particularly in a first half when it appeared not just the afternoon but also the season might be going off the rails against the team at the bottom of the table.
Consider Portland's second goal, which came barely two minutes after Thorns FC had fallen behind 2-1. Portland had had possession of the ball in Boston's 18-yard box for seven seconds by the time Boquete collected a pass from Allie Long. That's an eternity in real time and more than enough time for seven Breakers to have rallied in front of goal. Boquete still eluded two with her footwork and then split two more with a short pass to Sinclair, who finished the job.
It was more of the same throughout the half; the possession she had and the fits she gave defenders dulled any momentum Boston might have gained from its three first-half goals. That the game was free to be won in the second half was in no small part because of what Boquete did in the first 45 minutes.
Resiliency, if not perfection: In the midst of a playoff fight, the best thing Portland could have done was come up with defensive effort that locked down Boston's counterattack, a sore spot of late for the Thorns. That didn't happen, but at least the imperfections offered a chance to show resolve. Three times Portland fell behind by a goal in the first half, and three times it leveled the score in relatively short order. As many attacking assets as Portland has at its disposal when forced to play from behind, that still matched the total number of times it erased deficits in its first 18 games.
Tobin Heath is missed: Perhaps it's a stretch to talk about any attacking issues with six goals on the scoreboard, but Heath's absence was evident after the midfielder went down with a knee injury in a midweek draw at Chicago. Again, Portland got all the goals it needed and then some, but was it only coincidence or the work of Boston's formation that without Heath expending so much energy and demanding so much attention, Australian youngster Stephanie Catley -- so good at getting forward on the left side from her outside back position -- was not as much of a marauding presence as she has been in recent weeks?
Playoff watch: Washington and Chicago were still in action when Sunday's game in Portland ended, but the win all but guaranteed the Thorns would still hold one of the top four spots in the standings when the day was done. It appears those three teams and Western New York will fight for the two final playoff spots behind Seattle and FC Kansas City.
Having averted disaster against a Boston team that has had its number, Portland can't rest on Sunday's win. They travel all the way across the country for a game on Wednesday at Washington and then visit Seattle next Sunday, one of two remaining games against the league leader. The nature of the rivalry might negate any benefit, but it's possible Seattle will have the top seed all but locked up in those games.