SANDY — As two key pieces of the U.S. Women’s National Team over the years, Amy Rodriguez and Tobin Heath’s collective return to NWSL action from injury for Utah Royals FC and Portland Thorns FC, respectively, has been a storyline full of anticipation up to this point in the season.
On Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, the pair provided the fireworks in a 1-1 draw.
In front of a crowd of 8,446, Rodriguez struck first in the 53rd minute for URFC’s first home goal, and Heath responded 14 minutes later as the home team moved to 0-1-4. Portland is now 2-1-2.
Yet another draw for a side that is still looking for its first win left URFC head coach Laura Harvey disappointed, given that her squad scored first.
For the night, the Thorns outshot URFC 11-6 with a 3-1 advantage in shots on goal and an 8-2 edge in corner kicks.
“I think this is the most frustrated I think I’ve been after a game just because I felt that we knew what it was going to take to break them down,” Harvey said. “We just didn’t do it well enough and often enough, but when we did do it, it caused (Portland) a problem.
“We keep saying the exact same thing every week. I think we know defensively we’re good. We know we make it difficult but we have to keep working on us with the ball, and tonight we got punished.”
In that regard, the dynamic Rodriguez’s continued return from an ACL tear in last season’s opener is a step in the right direction. As she gradually increases her workload, Rodriguez got her first start of the season Saturday, although the plan was to sub her out at halftime.
After Rodriguez got a good chance at goal in the first half, however, Harvey felt she could get another and decided to keep her on for about the first five minutes of the second.
Eight minutes into the half, Kelley O’Hara, who started up top Saturday as opposed to her typical spot on the back line, launched a through ball up the field. Rodriguez chased it, putting pressure on the Thorns' defender, who mishandled it. Rodriguez sprang free and went one-on-one with Portland goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom.
Instead of trying to rifle a shot early, Rodriguez stayed patient and ultimately faked Eckerstrom out, setting up an easy shot into the bottom left corner of the goal.
She subbed out in the 56th minute, getting hugs from the coaching staff as she went to the bench.
“It feels so good to score again,” she said. “I absolutely loved that I had the chance to get out there and play today unfortunately, there’s kind of a bittersweet feeling on the game just because we didn’t pull away with the win, but really happy that I could help my team out today.”
The problems on the ball reared their head just a short time later, however, as some pressure from the Thorns in their offensive third caused URFC to give the ball away, and Christine Sinclair found Heath unattended in the middle of the field.
Heath, who came on just a minute after Rodriguez subbed out for her first appearance of the season because of offseason ankle surgery, chipped the ball over URFC goalkeeper Abby Smith.
“We lost the ball in the final third, and that’s always dangerous against a team like Portland it’s disappointing not to get three points,” said URFC defender and captain Becky Sauerbrunn. “We need those three points.”
URFC will try again for three next Saturday when the Washington Spirit come to the RioT. Start time is set for 7 p.m.