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Smith provides the difference in Thorns’ first-ever win over the Courage in North Carolina

Thorns return to the top of the NWSL standings with a crucial win 1-0 over the Courage

Portland Thorns FC v OL Reign Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Portland Thorns FC defeated the Courage 1-0 in Cary, North Carolina. This is the first time the Thorns have beaten the Courage at WakeMed Soccer Park.

Emily Menges slipped in the second minute and gave the ball away to Lynn Williams. The Courage forward sprinted toward goal but Kelli Hubly was able to slow her down and win the ball back to prevent an early deficit.

The first half was open. Both teams wanted to build from the back and press the opposition. This resulted in the Thorns and Courage having space to exploit in transition.

Williams had her shot saved by Bella Bixby in the 9th minute and the Thorns caused the Courage trouble on the other end one minute later. Christen Westphal lofted a cross toward goal. Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy tipped it over the bar, gifting Portland a corner kick. There was a scramble in the box which resulted in a Lindsey Horan shot being cleared by a defender.

The Thorns resorted to shots from distance repeatedly. Rocky Rodriguez, Natalia Kuikka, Angela Salem and Sophia Smith all tried to test Murphy from distance. The Courage found the most success when they played balls into space for Williams, Debinha and Jessica McDonald to run on to.

Cari Raccaro found McDonald in space in the 30th minute. McDonald sprinted past Hubly and fired a low shot on goal but Bixby was up to the task.

Horan was the target on almost every Portland set-piece. She was able to steer multiple headers on target but couldn’t break the deadlock.

Portland were able to create more moments in offensive transition at the start of the second half. Crystal Dunn continued to receive on the turn, as she did in the first half, and played Smith and Horan into space.

The Thorns finally took advantage of these transition opportunities in the 57th minute. Christine Sinclair curled a ball behind the Courage back line. Smith ran on to it and Murphy froze, unsure of whether to charge the forward or stay in goal. Murphy came out but it was too late and Smith poked her shot past Murphy and into the corner of the goal. Smith ended the Courage’s record-breaking shutout streak with her goal.

The Courage upped the tempo in search of an equalizer. In the 67th minute, Amy Rodriguez dropped her pass back to Meredith Speck. Speck crossed to Debinha, who rose and met it with her head. She made good contact but sent it wide of the goal.

As time ticked away in the second half, Angela Salem reached an incredible milestone. She became the 25th player in NWSL history to register 10,000 regular season minutes.

Portland withstood the short spell of North Carolina pressure and then regained control of the match. Smith had a chance to double her goal tally and the Thorns’ lead in the 80th minute. Dunn played her down the left. Smith cut past a defender and tried to curl her shot around Murphy but she sent it straight into the arms of the keeper.

A. Rodriguez had a chance to equalize in stoppage time but she shot it right at Bixby, who caught it comfortably.

Portland were able to keep the Courage at bay and registered their tenth clean sheet of the regular season. Portland pick up their first-ever win in North Carolina over the Courage.

The Thorns are back in action on Saturday, Sept. 25 as they take on the Red Stars in Chicago. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. (Pacific)