It was a busy weekend for Portland soccer teams as both the Thorns and Timbers played.
First, on Saturday, the Thorns and FC Kansas City played to a 1-1 draw in the first ever game in NWSL history. The attendance at Shawnee Mission District Stadium in Overland Park, Kansas was 6,784, an excellent show of support for women's soccer.
Kansas City scored the first goal of the game, and the first in NWSL history, in the third minute. After a defensive mistake by Portland Renae Cuellar picked up a through ball and shot past Thorns keeper Karine LeBlanc. The remainder of the half was somewhat even, with both teams having stretches of control. In the second half, Danielle Foxhoven came on as a sub in the 64th and two minutes later was fouled in the penalty area (it appeared to be a foul on the replay). Another Pilot, Christine Sinclair, made the penalty kick for the 1-1 final score.
Though both teams obviously wanted to win the result looked like a fair one the way the teams played. Portland wasn't able to get their star forwards, Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair, very involved. The midfield tended to hit long balls to the forwards instead of giving them the ball at their feet. It was also apparent the first team hadn't been playing together very much in the preseason. Four of the starters (Morgan, Rachel Buehler, Sinclair, and LeBlanc) were away with their national teams for part of training camp. Passes missed their target and players made runs that their teammates weren't expecting. Coach Cindy Parlow Cone can now see all the things she needs to work on with the team this week as they prepare for the home opener with Seattle on April 21st.
The next night the Timbers faced the San Jose Earthquakes at home. San Jose won the Supporters Shield as the best team in the regular season last year and was expected to be strong again. They're also known as a strong, physical team and it showed Sunday. The Earthquakes' defense was strong enough to keep the Timbers from breaking through and scoring despite having numerous chances. San Jose's style finally caught up to them in the 69th minute as Alan Gordon was sent off for receiving his second caution of the night. Portland still needed a goal, though. In the 78th minute team captain Will Johnson provided it from an excellent free kick that he curled around the wall and past goalkeeper Jon Busch. The goal was enough for the Timbers' second straight win, which moved them into third place in the Western Conference.
The Timbers have improved with each game since their loss to Montreal the second week of the season. A big part of that is the improvement of the defense, especially Mikael Silvestre. He struggled early in the season but the past two games he has been excellent, always in position and making good passes to the midfield. The rest of the team has become tougher mentally and physically as well. It's still early but if the Timbers can go on the road to San Jose next Sunday and win or draw it would almost be time to say the Timbers are for real.