In this weekly series, I will be highlighting a player from the weekend who was their respective team’s unsung hero, win or lose. A player who does the dirty work, does the little but important things in a game and someone who didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet but found other ways to contribute.
This week I’ve chosen Portland Thorn FC forward Hayley Raso.
The 22-year-old Australian is with her second NWSL club, playing for the Washington Spirit in 2015 and with the Thorns since 2016. Raso has proven to be a dynamic player, one who can be utilized as both forward and midfield for club and country. She has already made 21 appearances for Portland and in each one, she has been a steady and reliable player.
Portland 2-0 Boston
Having just faced off nine days previously (ending in 2-2 draw), these teams were already somewhat familiar with each other. Portland wasted no time in getting on the board and taking control of the game. An unfortunate own goal in the first minute by Boston’s Julie King gave the Thorns the early and unexpected lead.
Raso’s first major contribution came at the five-minute mark; as the Breakers were attempting to gain possession, she intercepted a pass at midfield and it it landed at the feet of Amandine Henry. The French playmaker looked around to pass but inevitably chose to take it herself and 20 yards out ripped a low shot to the right corner. It reminded me of how my old club coach would say “accuracy over power.” Henry did just that and it was somehow only her first goal as a Portland Thorn in 16 games.
The play started with the hustle and individual effort by Raso to win the ball. Portland quickly reaped the benefits of that kind of play, grabbing a two-goal lead at Providence Park. Anyone who knows anything about the NWSL, knows that when Portland get a comfortable lead at home, well, it’s almost impossible to come back and get any points in that kind of atmosphere. Raso and Henry gave the Thorns all they needed for the win on Saturday afternoon.
Throughout the game, I noticed Raso’s ability to win free kicks for her team, the first coming in the 10th minute. Raso dug her heels in to do a bit of defensive work and it paid off. She and Christine Sinclair doubled-teamed a Breaker on the sideline in Portland’s half and Raso came away with the free kick. It looked like a reminder to the opponent that even though Portland was winning, they wanted more and were working hard to show that.
Just one minute later, Raso would be at it again; this time it was just her and King fighting for the ball in Boston’s end. Raso got on the end of a Nadia Nadim ball and she tussled with Boston’s captain for a few seconds before Raso earned yet another free kick for her club, one in a more dangerous spot. While nothing came out of it, once again, Raso showed why she has earned a starting spot for Portland so far this season. Her energy and constant mobility remind me of a certain FCKC forward who is currently out of commission this season (Amy Rodriguez).
Raso could not be contained, this time making her presence known in the 17th minute. The Aussie made an identical run with Sinclair into the box, somehow getting in behind the backline of Boston for an impressive step-by-step play. Sinclair opted to take the shot, which just went wide, but I thought Sinclair should’ve passed to the open Raso. She made a lovely run to make herself available but the pass never came. Nonetheless, Raso had great movement throughout the whole play to present Portland with a serious opportunity.
Continuing her strong first half, Raso finally found some serious real estate in front of her in the 24th minute. Guided by an outlet pass from Portland’s own 18-yard-box thanks to the pinpoint service from Nadim, Raso was off to the races, competing against Boston’s Emilie Haavi for possession. Raso took it wide, took heavy contact from Haavi and I’m sure you guessed it … earned another free kick.
Once again, the Thorns failed to capitalize on it but it’s a perfect example of how Raso does in 1v1 situations and her vision to take it wide knowing she needed to wait a few more seconds for her teammates. Due to the foul, she never got the chance to get service into the box but getting that set piece was just as important.
One last example of how well Raso played this past weekend was in the 75th minute. The Thorns won a ball 20 yards out and two seconds later Raso sent a perfect pass to Lindsey Horan who had snuck inside the box. Horan would’ve had the shot, but Allie Long was making the same run from across the box so they collided and the play went dead.
Raso was making these small but important plays all game for Portland. She was one of the most active players on both sides of the ball. It didn’t have the outcomes they wanted (like goals or assists), but her liveliness and effort didn’t go unnoticed. The more I watch her play, the more I want to see her on the field for Portland when available. She is young and extremely talented and has proven how useful she can be.