It was a blustery Sunday night in Portland as the Thorns and Racing faced off in a hard fought preseason match. A headed ball by Portland’s Meaghan Nally in the 87th minute was the decider in this close 1-nil matchup.
There were lots of new faces on the Racing side compared to their starting lineup the last time they played Portland in 2022 including: Carson Pickett, Abby Erceg, Elli Pikkujämsä, Ary Borges, Paige Monaghan, and Wang Shuang. The Portland starting 11 included all returning players from last year’s squad.
Portland came out aggressive in the first half, with six shots to Racing’s one, but were unable to make the solid connection to find the netting, mostly due to the apt defense by centerback du Abby Erceg and Elli Pikkujämsä. Of the two, Racing head coach Kim Björkegren said, “Abby, she’s a leader that we need there, Elli is still young and [this] is the first year for her in this league. It goes a bit quicker with all the transition here. She missed it once when Smith was alone with the goalkeeper, but overall she did good as well.”
Racing had more corners than Portland in the first half and likely more crosses, but were unable to get that final touch in the box to redirect on frame. “Both Carson [Pickett] and Lauren Milliet, they’re doing a fantastic game, top quality outside the box by both of them,” said Björkegren after the match. “We had many crosses inside of the box, again, we need to be a little bit more hungry inside it. We need to take the opportunity that is there inside the box. We maybe had five, six half chances and you need to take one of those to have a point or have a chance to win.”
Louisville goalkeeper Katie Lund had quite a few saves to keep them in the match including a one-on-one in the first half, a kick clearance while half on the ground, and a diving save in the final ten minutes. Björkegren called Lund’s diving save as “World Class.” “She’s great, and the funny thing with her, she still has a much higher potential because there are more things to learn … In three, four, years, I don’t know how good she will be because in my opinion she’s already now one of the best goalkeepers in the league.
With a team largely similar to last year’s championship roster, Portland had fewer questions heading into the preseason in terms of team cohesion, shape, and player’s positional responsibilities compared to Racing.
The most unexpected thing for Portland fans looking at the starting lineup was probably forward Michele Vasconcelos. Vasconcelos was a free agent during the offseason and re-signed with Portland on January 27th but a he only saw 14 regular season minutes last season with the Thorns. She had some good moments of pressure in the first half and definitely dropped back at times to help defensively.
NWSL VAR made it’s Providence Park debut in the first half, when a called penalty kick off a foul on Sophia Smith in the box was called back after video review. From the video replay in the stadium it looked like there was definite contact coming from more than one Racing player, but the replay must’ve shown the referee something else to overturn the call on the field. Compared to the Angel City use of VAR which was quick and painless, there was a lot of waiting around, and then just when you thought that the referee was going to say take it, then he went to the video board and started watching replays. Hopefully, the quickness is something that is addressed sooner rather than later.
Portland head coach Mike Norris spoke to press after the match on his overall thoughts of the performance, “[I’m] a bit frustrated. To be honest, we struggled defensively just to deal with their midfield movement. Probably took longer than ideally to fix that… Much happier with [the] second half. We just never got close to them defensively how we wanted to, but we felt that we did much better.”
In the 62nd minute, Izzy D’Aquila entered the match, and made her preseason debut for the Thorns. The forward was the 12th overall draft pick in the 2023 NWSL draft, and was quite impactful the entire time she was on the pitch. Norris spoke of her performance, “Izzy’s a threat, she’s a fighter, she’s a fighter, she puts everything out there. She’s got great habits in the box.”
The 87th minute goal came from a set piece for the Thorns. The corner kick went long aiming for the head of Kelli Hubly who was waiting just past the goal. Hubly headed the ball back into the chaos in front of goal, where Meaghan Nally got her head on it and sent it right between the goalkeeper and the defender marking that near post.
Racing Louisville (4-3-3): 1 – Katie Lund; 16 – Carson Pickett, 20 – Abby Erceg, 4 – Elli Pikkujämsä (56’ 25 – Rebecca Holloway), 2 – Lauren Milliet; 6 – Jaelin Howell (c), 7 – Savannah DeMelo, 8 – Ary Borges (64’ 9 – Kayla Fischer); 5 – Paige Monaghan (64’ 14 – Jess McDonald), 22 – Kirsten Davis (85’ 21 – Parker Goins), 77 – Wang Shuang (64’ 27 – Alex Chidiac)
Portland Thorns (4-3-3): Bella Bixby (c); 25 – Meghan Klingenburg (72’ 45 – Natalie Beckman), 5 – Emily Menges (46’ 44 – Gabby Provenzano), 20 – Kelly Hubly, 14 – Natalie Kuikka (62’ 39 – Meaghan Nally); 17 – Sam Coffey (72’ 46 – Taylor Porter) 11 – Rocky Rodriguez (62’ 12 – Christine Sinclair), 13 – Olivia Moultrie; 8 – Hina Sugita (72’ 33 – Hannah Betfort), 9 – Sophia Smith (62’ Izzy D’Aquila), 15 – Michele Vasconcelos (62’ 16 – Janine Beckie)
Racing will take on the OL Reign Wednesday March 15th at 5pm PT while Portland plays the USWNT U23’s at 7:30pm PT.