After a 1-1 draw against the Washington Spirit on Sunday, July 5, Portland Thorns head coach Mark Parsons was optimistic that the team could make great strides in time for its next match.
Well, if Thorns FC did make progress, it didn't result in three points as they drew rival OL Reign 0-0 on Monday morning to remain winless in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup.
But as disappointing as the draw is for a team that hasn't won yet, it's not all doom-and-gloom for Portland. Rather, the team is confident they're close.
"We're walking away from a game again, looking at 95% going 'That's top level' and the 5% hurting us," Parsons told reporters. "Coming away from a game and a fantastic performance in almost every area feeling very disappointed that we haven't taken care of business."
Portland has shown many flashes so far this season in Utah but hasn't been able to put it all together to leave the pitch victorious, and each time the same portion of the field has given the Thorns trouble: the last third.
"We'll probably be working on the same things we've been working on," said defender Kelli Hubly. "Because I feel like around the middle third and the defensive third I think we are playing good passes getting out of things. It's just going to be getting to the final third and our final pass, I think, to goal because I think overall, we're doing great. It's just we need to finish."
In the last match against Washington, the Thorns largely dominated the first half in terms of possession and field positioning but could not get the ball in the net. A second-half diving header from 2018 NWSL MVP Lindsey Horan got Portland on the board, but a defensive lapse quickly followed resulting in another draw.
Then against OL Reign, Moran (left hip) along with defender Emily Menges (right calf) were both absent from the lineup.
"The decision was made to set them up for the quarterfinal," said Parsons. "Remain hopeful that they'll both be available... Wasn't worth the risk but feeling positive."
As for playing the one-seeded North Carolina Courage, a rematch of the 1-2 season-opening defeat that broke NWSL viewership records in the quarterfinals, Parsons is excited about the challenge and believes in his squad.
"I love this matchup early. I think the later in the tournament we face them they become a bigger challenge... Go big or go home," said the Thorns head coach. "I've got belief in this group that we can do it."
"We're a team going through a transition missing some big and experienced players but we're a team. We've set up to be a better team this year with everything that we've done and people have stepped up and proven that they're ready for the opportunity... There is absolutely no doubt that the future of where we're going is brighter than ever.
When Portland steps onto the pitch on this weekend to take on the Courage, they will do so with every intention of moving onto the semifinals.
"It's go time. There's no hiding it and I have belief in this group that they can do it."
Parsons went on to say "I haven't felt this way about my team since '18, maybe '17. The way the whole team is playing as a whole."
Despite the 2019 team finding desired results early leading to a postseason berth, Parsons knew that team needed to rely on "creating something out of nothing" while he thinks this group is a lot closer to the offensive attack he desires.
So far from watching the games, it becomes evident what he means. The Thorns are creating chances in the box, but just not finishing them, as if there's something about that last third of the field.
"We were better in the final third in creating opportunity and the positioning and the movements but our technical execution was nowhere near our level," said Parsons.
But, will Portland get there in time?
"We're going to find out if this game will happen too early or if it comes at the perfect time."
We certainly will.