Back-up goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom put in the best goalkeeping performance of the tournament to shutout the top-ranked Courage as Morgan Weaver scored her first professional goal.
Lindsey Horan, Emily Menges and Bella Bixby were all listed as questionable in the build up to the Portland Thorns’ quarterfinal matchup against the top-seeded North Carolina Courage. Menges and Horan both started, but it came as a surprise to see Bixby left out of the squad.
Britt Eckerstrom was listed as the starting keeper in Bixby’s absence. She realized that it was going to be a busy night as Lynn Williams squared a ball across the box within 52 seconds.
Britt Eckerstrom can't stop and won't stop! Another big save from the @ThornsFC keeper! #NCvPOR | 0-0 | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/WTSM8gSxbS— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) July 17, 2020
The Thorns opened the match trying to press North Carolina high up the pitch but quickly dropped into a medium block to limit the space Williams had in behind the back line. The Courage also opened up with their signature pressure and won the ball high creating a plethora of chances throughout the first half.
Horan was instrumental in offense and defense, again, for Portland. She defended well in the box and drifted wide dancing in the box creating two cut-back opportunities. As the first half progressed, North Carolina took more control and created more chances.
Specifically, the Courage targeted Katherine Reynolds on the left. The combination of Williams, Jaelene Daniels and Debinho terrorized Reynolds, who had to be substituted after a head-to-head collision with Williams.
The Thorns were pinned back for large portions of the half and were unable to release themselves of pressure. Toward the end of the half, Portland were able to get more possession. In the nine minutes of added time both teams had opportunities as the game opened up considerably. The standout of the first half for the Thorns was goalkeeper Eckerstrom who made crucial saves to keep the game scoreless in the first half.
The second half started with more North Carolina pressure that pinned the majority of the Thorns players in their defensive third. The Courage continued to struggle in the final third unable to find the final decisive pass.
Early in the half, Horan went down injured and coach Mark Parsons subbed on Celeste Boureille and Simone Charley. The Thorns were able to escape from pressure at times through the hold-up play and pace of Charley and Morgan Weaver.
Midfielder Rocky Rodriguez danced toward the end line in the 68 minute and hit a ball across the six yard box which Weaver fired home for her first professional goal.
Go on and shine, Rook ✨— NWSL (@NWSL) July 17, 2020
Morgan Weaver gives @ThornsFC the lead!
0-1 | #NCvPOR
Tune in now on @CBSAllAccess and @Twitch.#NWSLChallengeCup pic.twitter.com/pFSBk0XrKk
After the goal Portland capitalized on the momentum. They pressed high and forced North Carolina into multiple turnovers. The Courage started playing with a lot of urgency after the water break. They possessed the ball and imposed themselves on Portland, but Portland defended admirably to keep them out.
Portland did well to sit back and defend the Courage and were able to build out of the back to create good opportunities.
Eckerstrom continued her immense performance with a huge one-on-one save with Debinha staring her down.
The Thorns grew in confidence and in possession as they were able to see out an impressive 1-0 upset of the North Carolina Courage to get their first win of the NWSL Challenge Cup.
The semifinal will kickoff on Wednesday where the Thorns will take on the winner of the Houston Dash and the Utah Royals.