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North Carolina Courage decisively send the Thorns off the top with 6-0 win

The worst loss in Thorns history sends them off the top of the table and looking from outside in at the NWSL shield race.

The Portland Thorns suffered their worst loss in club history at the hands of their NWSL Shield rivals the North Carolina Courage, sending them all but out of the race for first place for the 2019 season.

The Thorns are not mathematically out of the Shield race but they require a big drop off from the Courage for the rest of the season to get back into pole position. With this result but the Courage went up one point in the table with two games in hand and seized firm control of the tiebreaker. Three goals in just 24 minutes of play, all from right hand crosses, put the Thorns behind early and they never recovered.

Katherine Reynolds stepped into central defense for the suspended Emily Sonnett, while Kristen Hamilton, a mainstay for the Courage during the World Cup period, went to the bench in favor of their traditional big two of Jessica McDonald and Lynn Williams.

After an away game in which Adrianna Franch was racially abused by someone in attendance at Rio Tinto stadium, the Rose City Riveters greeted her with “she’s our keeper” chants when she first made it onto the field and for the opening minute.

The Courage came out swinging, having steady possession in the Thorns third and looking dangerous, despite somewhat unusually holding their fire. They would go on to score with the first shot of the game in the 13th minute. Crystal Dunn recovered a ball deep in the Thorns half and crossed in for Jess McDonald from the right. McDonald had the awareness to leave the ball for Debinha behind her, who finished tidily past Franch.

Their second would come only seven minutes later. Merritt Mathias, again from the right wing, drove into the box and laid the ball off for Dunn, whose rasping shot hit the far post and bounced out. Debinha was there at the back post and drew Carpenter over by squaring up to shoot only to lay it off for Lynn Williams in the middle, who was left with an easy tap in.

Williams had her second very soon after, and it was the simplest of the bunch. Mathias just drove down the wing unmarked and sent in an early cross before Tobin Heath could catch up. The cross went all the way through a stunned Thorns defense and Williams was able to one-time it straight past Franch.

The three gut punches in a row roused the crowd, who responded by ramping up their cheering, and roused the Thorns, who responded by increasing their attacking pressure. Purce’s cross in the 31st minute caught the Courage defense trying to play offside and nearly snuck into the far corner but for Steph Labbe’s intervention. Horan had a free header in the 40th minute on Klingenberg’s recycled service from a corner but put it wide from a tight angle.

The Thorns nearly opened the first half by clawing their way back in but were somewhat improbably kept out of the net. Raso, after getting released down the wing by Carpenter, crossed short for Horan, who missed the ball, and Heath’s rocket of a followup got parried away.

Tensions threatened to boil over at times, with Klingenberg and Denise O’Sullivan getting physical off the ball, resulting in a yellow card for Klingenberg.

North Carolina would get a fourth in the 61st, off yet another cross, this time from Jaelene Hinkle down the left flank, whose cross once again found its way through the Thorns defense and was picked up by Dunn, who fired off Franch and into the goal.

Williams completed her hat trick in the 67th minute off a simple counterattack led by Debinha. Running at the Thorns central defenders, Debinha drew Reynolds and slipped in Williams, who emphatically finished beyond Franch.

Emily Ogle, Simone Charley and Elizabeth Ball came on in the second half as it became increasingly clear the Thorns were out.

Kristen Hamilton, a late substitute for Courage, put in a curling shot in the 90th minute to put the Courage six up. Heather O’Riley put a shot off the crossbar in stoppage time.