The Portland Thorns put in a comprehensive defensive performance today, shutting down the vaunted attack of the league-leading North Carolina Courage en route to a 1-0.
The Thorns came out of the gate organized at the back and ready for the league’s top side, but still the Courage pressed forward from the opening whistle. Despite the Thorns on the back foot, however, the Courage struggled to break down the home side’s five player back line.
Chances to venture forward were few and far between in the early going, but as the first half wore on, the Thorns began to exert themselves on the match, getting the ball down on the pitch and holding possession despite the Courage’s strong press. By the end of the half, both sides looked equally in the match despite chances remaining sparse.
The visitors did have one opportunity to open the scoring in the 44th minute when Courage forward Ashley Hatch got a head on a strong Makenzy Doniak cross just feet from goal, only to see her effort fly over the crossbar to the relief of the Rose City Riveters seated just behind the net in the North End.
The second half began with both sides settled in and looking for the opening goal. With the Thorns looking to get the ball down on the pitch, and the Courage looking to hit on the break, chances came quickly for both sides as the half began. A 47th minute chance from the Courage was saved by Thorns keeper Adrianna Franch, then moments later at the other end of the pitch Katelyn Rowland denied Christine Sinclair with a near post save.
The Thorns would be next to come close, pinging a shot off the woodwork in the 69th minute. With the ball down on the deck, the Thorns got the ball to Lindsey Horan, cutting across the top of the box. Horan touched the ball into space before firing off a curling shot that nearly found the upper ninety, only for Rowland to get a slight touch to it, sending the ball off the woodwork and out for a corner kick.
Now on the front foot, the Thorns would get the opener just one minute later in the 70th minute. Pushing the ball out wide to the left flank, Horan dropped a pass back from the end line, finding Meghan Klingenberg in space. After settling the ball, Klingenberg hit a strong, measured cross into the Courage box where it was met by the run of Hayley Raso at the back post. Raso rose up above her defender and powered a header back across the face of goal, where it hit the far post woodwork and banked in around the dive of Rowland, giving the Thorns the 1-0 lead.
The league leaders had fallen behind, but the Courage refused to bow out quietly and almost had their equalizer moments later. In the 73rd minute it was a Carolina cross that found the head of McCall Zerboni feet from goal, only for the chance to flash over the bar.
Again the Courage threatened to pull on back in the 90th minute as full back Taylor Smith found space in the Thorns half and pulled the trigger from long range. With Franch unable to get to the ball, the shot dipped and slammed into the bar, deflecting up and over the goal.
The win leaves the Thorns with 22 points and moves the side into a tie for third place with Sky Blue FC.
The Thorns are back in action next Saturday when they will host the Washington Spirit in their second of three straight home matches.