Portland Thorns FC earning their first victory of the NWSL Fall Series on Sunday, defeating Utah Royals FC, 3-0. The Fall Series will continue through Oct. 17, with all nine NWSL clubs playing four games apiece while being split into three regional "pods." Many Fall Series games are streaming on CBS or CBS All Access.
Here are five things we learned from Sunday's match.
1. Turmoil surrounding Utah franchise
Last month, an investigation of MLS and NWSL club owner Dell Loy Hansen began after reports of various alleged racist and sexist comments among other instances of a toxic culture amongst the Real Salt Lake leadership. Ahead of the Royals' Fall Seres match against the Thorns, it was announced via the Twitch stream that Royals head coach Craig Harrington and assistant coach Louis Lancaster were placed on an administrative leave of absence from the club as an ongoing investigation takes place after various allegations among staff. It was announced that Hansen would sell the franchises in August.
The team placed assistant coach and former NWSL player Amy LePeilbet as interim coach in light of the news. The pressures placed upon the team to perform under such circumstances were no doubt felt as players released a statement ahead of the match:
The Royals were unable to get on the scoreboard but put together a 90 minute performance despite the outside factors surrounding Real Salt Lake franchises in Utah. Despite the loss, the team had some standout performances on the day, including another impressive shift from Spanish international Vero Boquete. The 33-year-old midfielder put in a 45-minute shift that saw her create five chances.
2. Simone Charley's slice and dice goal
Charley, a second-year forward, has continued to impress during this unprecedented year. Her limited time during a World Cup year last season showed the beginnings of a potential long-term option on the top line for Portland. Her playmaking on the ball and ability to navigate around defenders are just some ways Charley has shown on-field strides.
Her Fall Series goal against Utah on Sunday was a display in both intelligence and technical ability.
3. The Lindsey Horan show
During their Challenge Cup run, the Thorns had their fair share of offensive struggles in front of goal. They also were trying to navigate a number of injuries to players before and during the summer tournament. Lindsey Horan has truly become an irreplaceable player for the Thorns. Horan was able to start games and impact matches during Challenge Cup while carrying a minor hip injury.
Horan has been able to return to play for the Fall Series, and the opening match against Utah saw the midfielder nearly everywhere on the pitch as she continued to make constant runs inside while creating chances outside. She is a player who makes the team instantly better when she is on the pitch as she created seven chances, recorded four shots, and scored one goal.
4. Thorns have promising core
During the Challenge Cup this summer, a number of coaches utilized the tournament as an opportunity to get newer players extended minutes while evaluating player performances. Portland coach Mark Parsons frequently spoke of the game opportunities for players like Morgan Weaver and Charley as 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sophia Smith was out with an injury during Challenge Cup.
Weaver was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2020 NWSL draft, and was listed as questionable with a left thigh injury and missed the opening Fall Series match, but could eventually build on her strong Challenge Cup performances. Smith finally made her Portland Thorns debut against Utah and remained active during her 20 minutes on the pitch, which included a goal in the 72nd minute. Charley impressed and showed she is capable of taking on multiple defenders to create her own shot. With time, the young forward options in place will pay dividends for the Rose City.
5. Meghan Klingenberg's impressive 2020 continues
The inconsistent, and at times lack of, praise for Portland Thorns FC outside back Meghan Klingenberg hasn't altered the veteran defender's attacking abilities. Klingenberg's time in Portland has provided the team with a player capable of producing consistent performances. Often criticized for her lack of speed or pace, she more than makes up for in ability to produce in the attack. For whatever reasons leading up 2019 World Cup that left her out of USWNT camps and the roster overall, the Pittsburgh native is frequently involved in creating offensive attacks and setting up goals for her club -- including an assist on the debut goal by Smith against Utah.