We’re roughly a month into the 2022 soccer season, but it’s time to see how Portland’s teams are faring early on. Real quick, though, let’s look back to last year. The 2021 soccer season played out quite differently for Portland’s two professional teams – the Thorns (National Women’s Soccer League) and the Timbers (Major League Soccer) – but both reached the playoffs and ultimately came short a title.
The Thorns earned the top seed and a first-round bye in the NWSL playoffs with a record of 13-6-5 but fell 2-0 to the eventual runners-up Chicago Red Stars in the semifinals. The Timbers finished fourth in the Western Conference with a 17-13-4 mark and won their first three playoff matches – including besting the West’s No. 1-seeded Colorado Rapids – before losing in the MLS Cup to New York City FC on penalty kicks, 1-1 (4-2).
Fast forward to the 2022 season, and we see the Thorns are off to a not-so-surprising solid start as they participate in the NWSL Challenge Cup, winning their last two matches after opening with a 1-1 draw against the OL Reign. All 12 NWSL teams participate in the cup, which concludes May 7 and will overlap with the regular season schedule. Portland is the cup’s defending champion and currently sits atop the Western Conference with seven points and a 2-0-1 record. Forward Sophia Smith currently leads the Thorns with two goals while three others have one apiece.
Behind Smith, defender Natalia Kuikka, and goalkeeper Bella Bixby, Portland seems to have a better-than-good chance at repeating as regular season champs. The question is, will the Thorns be able to win come playoff time? Portland has allowed only one goal through three games and none in the last two. It’s awfully difficult to lose games when the other team can’t score. And while the Thorns only netted one goal in two of the games so far, their three-goal shutout win over Angel City FC shows the firepower this team is capable of. I’d say the Portland women are determined to avenge last year’s shortcoming.
Next up for the Thorns is a rematch with OL Reign in Portland on April 2.
Now to the men’s team, the Timbers.
After a month of regular season play, Portland finds itself in the middle of the Western Conference with six points and a 1-1-3 record, which is good for ninth place. Despite the lone loss – a 4-1 thrashing by FC Dallas on March 19 – the Timbers can’t seem to find their scoring touch. Outside of the season-opening 2-2 draw against New England on February 26; Portland has yet to net more than one goal in a match this season, including its 1-0 win over Austin on March 12.
Yimmi Chara has scored a team-leading two goals through five matches, while four others have netted one apiece. Chara leads the team with two assists, while Sebastian Blanco and Santiago Moreno each have one.
It’s obviously early on during a long season, but Portland would be wise to find some offense before digging too deep of a hole. After a near-perfect playoff run in 2021, this squad is no stranger to understanding when to play with a sense of urgency. Perhaps the team should find that urgency sooner rather than later. Could it begin on April 3 when the Timbers host the LA Galaxy? We’ll soon find out.