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Portland Thorns make it look difficult in 1-0 win over the Houston Dash

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Thorns nearly throw away one of their best statistical performances of the year but find a way to win anyway.

A strange night of statistical dominance and nervy execution from the Thorns saw them leave the field with a 1-0 win and also wanting more up against a Dash team on short rest and in tricky circumstances. With North Carolina sealing the NWSL shield in a simultaneous game and the Red Stars also winning, the Thorns needed to win to keep themselves in contention to host a home playoff game for a fourth straight year.

Emily Sonnett returned to the Thorns starting lineup after missing the blowout loss to the Courage because of two yellow cards received in the game before. Meanwhile the Dash had an ordeal getting out of heavily flooded Houston, playing the middle game of three in a week away in a hostile environment.

The Dash opened up play looking like they were still in Houston, while the Thorns putting on, in a odd way, one of their more statistically impressive displays this year. They would finish the first half with 60% of the ball, an astonishing 9 corners and 17 open-field crosses, and 12 shots, none of which were on target.

It was clear from the effort levels from the team that they intended to come out of the blocks and make a statement. The Thorns pressed very high very early, keeping the Dash in their own half for the first ten minutes of the game. Sonnett in particular carried herself with the frenetic energy that characterized her early days at the Thorns, charging upfield on breaks in play and aggressively attacking the ball in defense.

The Dash did an impressive job of contesting the Thorns’ 17 crosses, preventing them from having enough time to pick their spots, and when they did break down Portland’s execution let them down. Houston’s gameplan of sitting back and letting the game come to them appeared to be working. Lindsey Horan had the best chance of the early game: after Sinclair got a perfect near-post flick on a corner, leaving Jane Campbell committed, Horan looked at an open goal and put her header wide.

It only took one minute into the second half for the Thorns to get their first shot on goal, and just a minute more for the Thorns to open the scoring. For all of Houston’s impressive defensive execution in the first, they were undone by a quick throw-in. Horan picked up the ball, turned and crossed for a late-arriving Tobin Heath, who one-timed her shot into the net.

The Dash had their opportunities on the break, especially after bringing Jamia Fields on for Kealia Ohai. Fields could have scored for the Dash in the 63rd minute after Sofia Huerta ghosted past Meghan Klingenberg and sent in a perfect cross that Fields sent just wide. CeCe Kizer had the chance to put dangerous shots in a few times in the second but her touch let her down when breaking through.

The Thorns managed to just about keep their wits about them to survive and fight another day.