SOCCER/Lussi, central defense impress; Portland needs wins at home; Timbers 2 have highlights in latest loss

The Portland Thorns play their next three National Women's Soccer League matches at Providence Park, beginning with a Saturday afternoon showdown with the league-leading North Carolina Courage.

That game, which can be seen on the Lifetime network, is the first trip to Portland for the former Western New York franchise since its wild playoff victory here last October.

In addition to that story line, there is the urgent need for the Thorns to take advantage of three consecutive home games. More than halfway through the 24-game schedule, Portland has five wins, four losses and four draws and sits one point out of the final playoff spot.

Portland has not been bad this season. But the Thorns have won only once in their last five games and needed a special shot from Lindsey Horan to earn a draw last weekend at Houston.

The Thorns need to take advantage of these three home games (including July 22 against Washington and Aug. 5 against Houston). They are 4-1-1 at Providence Park this season but will play five of their final eight on the road after this stretch at home.

Horan's perfect free kick rightly grabbed the headlines from Saturday's 1-1 draw at Houston. Also worth noting from that match:LUSSI

• Tyler Lussi made a strong first impression, coming on at halftime and creating several moments of trouble for Dash defenders. Most notable from the rookie out of Princeton was a 67th minute move into the penalty area that resulted in a Houston player tripping Lussi. It should have earned Portland a penalty kick, but no foul was called.

• Lussi's play suggests coach Mark Parsons will have some difficult lineup choices if ever his roster is fully together and fit. There has been no indication lately if or when Tobin Heath might play this season. When Nadia Nadim, Amandine Henry and Dagny Brynjarsdottir return from the European Championships, Parsons will need to decide who to drop from the roster. If Florida standout Savannah Jordan shows up this summer, the choices will be even more difficult.

NWSL teams are limited to 20 players but can add players on a fill-in basis, as the Thorns did last week with Ashley Herndon and Kelli Hubly. Herndon, like Lussi, made her professional debut at Houston.

• The middle of the Thorns defense is the definition of stability. Central defenders Emily Menges and Emily Sonnett and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch are the only Thorns who have played all 1,170 minutes this season, and their play is a big reason Portland has surrendered only 12 goals through 13 matches (second-best in the NWSL).

Looking for win 2

Portland Timbers 2 lost again last Sunday, falling prey to a series of defensive errors in a 4-3 loss to Los Angeles Galaxy II. Portland is 1-14-2, easily the worst record in the United Soccer League.

Still, there were some encouraging moments.

Jeremy Ebobisse, the player Portland traded up in the MLS SuperDraft to grab fourth overall, scored his first goal for the club with a fantastic finish. Ebobisse showed his athletic ability when he out-jumped the Galaxy goalkeeper to head a cross from Marco Farfan into the goal.

Farfan's second assist of the game was a nifty slip pass that sent Victor Arboleda free into the penalty area. Arboleda and Farfan were lively working together on the left wing — as they were in their few late minutes of the MLS Timbers' 2-2 draw with Chicago on July 5.

For T2's youngsters, a win would certainly be welcome. The next chance comes on Sunday when Swope Park Rangers visit Providence Park for a 2 p.m. match.

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