Alex Morgan scored a first-half equalizer and Mana Shim scored a last-minute go-ahead goal on Sunday, as Portland Thorns FC came from behind to beat the Boston Breakers 2-1 in front of a sold out crowd of 2,978 at Dilboy Stadium.
The win allowed Portland (9-4-3, 30 pts, 16 games played) to push back into sole possession of second place, one point behind Sky Blue FC (9-4-4, 31 pts, 17 games plated) with a game in hand. The result dampened the playoff hopes of the heretofore surging Breakers (5-6-5, 20 pts, 16 games played), who dropped to sixth place.
Coming off a four-game winless streak and teetering on the edge of plummeting playoff positioning, the Thorns needed this result badly, and Shim, as is her wont, played the unlikely hero. Her goal came at 86' and started when Thorns midfielder Tobin Heath found forward Alex Morgan in the right part of the offensive third. As Christine Sinclair made a run on the opposite side and Heath sprinted in the middle of the pitch, Morgan seemed to feel Shim making a sly little run behind her and delivered an equally crafty pass. Shim booted a low, quality shot from the right side of the penalty box, and the ball just clipped the inside of the far post. It was Shim's second goal in as many games -last week, the rookie discovery player scored the equalizer in a 1-1 draw with the Western New York Flash, a game the Thorns couldn't afford to lose if they wanted to keep their hold on the upper part of the table.
They couldn't afford to lose this one either, and that's why Lianne Sanderson's opening tally at 13' could have demoralized a struggling side. Sanderson's goal came when Thorns defender Kat Williamson failed to clear Cat Whitehill's free kick. The ball bounced off Williamson's head and straight to the foot of Sanderson, who beat outstretched keeper Karina LeBlanc with a sharp drive to the back of the net.
It was a rare lapse for Williamson, who had Breakers threat Sydney Leroux -who burned the Thorns for two goals the last time these two teams met- on lockdown for the duration of the match.
It didn't take long for Morgan to equalize. At 13', Thorns defender Rachel Buehler used a thoughtful pass to find Morgan, who collected the ball just as Phillips started to sprint about 25 yards off her line. What a fool's errand that was: Morgan sidestepped the onrushing second-stringer and calmly placed the ball in the empty net.
This being a Thorns match, there was no dearth of bacon-saving, especially from the Queen of All Bacon-Savers, LeBlanc. KK made four saves in the match, and three of them were worthy of double-takes. The most dramatic moment for the keeper occurred at 67', when Leroux found some space and received a smart delivery from Heather O'Reilly. Leroux popped off a hard-paced half-volley from point-blank range, but LeBlanc pushed it aside for a corner.
It was one of six corner kicks earned by the Breakers on the night, compared to the Thorns' 11. Portland also outshot Boston, 15-8. Seven of the Thorns' corners and eight of their shots came in the first half.
The stats hint at a side that has found more of its form of late. Playing in her second game since returning from France, Heath did nothing to rattle the bleachers, but she facilitated an offense that suddenly looks more nimble and dangerous since she's arrived. The entire team has benefitted, but none more than Sinclair. The Canadian international has not scored since April -April- but her return to the frontline has her looking more and more like the superstar striker she is. Sinclair tied with Morgan with the most shots in this match, at five apiece, and her 17th-minute lob shot was denied only by the slightest splinter of woodwork.
All told, not the best match by the Thorns, but not the worst either.
Portland Thorns FC (9-4-3, 30pts) at Boston Breakers (5-6-5, 20pts)
July 21, 2013 - Dilboy Stadium (Somerville, Mass.)
Goals by Half 1 2 F
POR 1 1 2
BOS 1 0 1
BOS: Sanderson (Simon), 13
POR: Morgan (Buehler), 24
POR: Shim (Morgan), 86
POR: Heath (Caution), 84
Lineups & Stats
POR: GK Karina LeBlanc; D Marian Dougherty, D Kathryn Williamson, D Rachel Buehler, D Nikki Marshall; M Tobin Heath, M Allie Long, M Meleana Shim, F Danielle Foxhoven (Weimer, 70), F Christine Sinclair (capt.), F Alex Morgan
Substitutes Not Used: GK Adelaide Gay, D/M Courtney Wetzel, M Elizabeth Guess, M Angie Kerr
TOTAL SHOTS: 15 (Morgan, Sinclair 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Morgan, Shim 2); FOULS: 7 (Morgan, 3); OFFSIDES: 3; CORNER KICKS: 11; SAVES: 4
BOS: GK Ashley Phillips; D Julie King, D Kia McNeill, D Cat Whitehill (capt.), D Jazmyne Avant, M Mariah Nogueira (Schoepfer, 77), M Joanna Lohman, M Lianne Sanderson, M Heather O'Reilly, F Kyah Simon, F Sydney Leroux
Substitutes Not Used: GK Alyssa Naeher, GK Cecilia Santiago, D Maddy Evans, D Carmelina Moscato, D Rhian Wilkinson, M Jo Dragotta
TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Leroux, 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Leroux, 2); FOULS: 3 (Three players tied, 1); OFFSIDES: 1; CORNER KICKS: 6; SAVES: 2
Referee: Robert Sibiga
Assistant Referees: Cory Richardson, Russ Wolf
Fourth Official: Mounir Idmalak
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 75 degrees