The Thorns open the fall series with a 3-0 win over Utah

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Sophia Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the National Women’s Soccer League draft this year, scored in her Portland debut and the Thorns beat the Utah Royals 3-0 in a fall series match Sunday.

There was drama before the start. The Royals placed head coach Craig Harrington and assistant coach Louis Lancaster on a leave of absence, and assistant Amy LePeilbet was named interim head coach. No reason was given for the move.

It was the first game at Providence Park for the Thorns since last October. The NWSL suspended the season on March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league restarted with the Challenge Cup tournament in Utah before returning to local markets for the fall series.

The Thorns were scheduled to open the series at home against OL Reign on Sept. 12, but smoky conditions in Portland due to wildfires in the Pacific Northwest forced that game to be rescheduled for Sept. 30.

Simone Charley danced around two defenders before beating Royals goalkeeper Abby Smith, giving the Thorns the lead in the 35th minute.

Sophia Smith, who played for Stanford, scored on a header in the 72nd minute. She was unable to play in the Challenge Cup because of injury.

Lindsey Horan added a goal that rebounded off Abby Smith in the 81st.

The Royals and the Major League Soccer club Real Salt Lake have been embroiled in scandal in recent weeks. Owner Dell Loy Hanson made controversial remarks following RSL’s decision not to play a match in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

After allegations surfaced that detailed a history of racist comments, Hansen apologized and announced he was selling Utah Soccer Holdings, which includes RSL, the Royals and the USL’s Real Monarchs.

Utah Soccer Holdings executive Andy Carroll was also placed on a leave earlier this month while the team investigated allegations of workplace misconduct. MLS and the NWSL also launched investigations.

It was unclear if Sunday’s announcement regarding Harrington and Lancaster were connected to those investigations.

Players for the Royals issued a statement before the match, but it wasn’t known if it was connected to the team’s moves Sunday.

“We’ve had enough. Enough of the racist systems excluding black and brown people. Enough of sexist stereotypes infiltration conversations about our talented and achievements as athletes. Enough of a work environment that is not open and includes for all,” the statement said, in part. “We acknowledge the past the past wrongdoings of this organization and choose to move forward in a new direction.”

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