Thorns score important victory
A header from the Thorns' shortest attacking player lifted Portland to a Saturday win that could become a big step toward a successful 2017 season.
Hayley Raso's header in the 70th minute — her first headed goal — produced a 1-0 win over the first-place North Carolina Courage in National Women's Soccer League play in front of 16,804 fans at Providence Park.
The Thorns improved to 6-4-4 (22 points). The Courage are 9-5-0 (27).
Beating the league leader without several regular starters showed the Thorns what they are capable of, coach Mark Parsons said.
"The energy and the intensity and the performance from every single player in the group, I think that's a statement," Parsons said. "And it's a statement to ourselves. We know if we work and go after teams and look to be dominant with and without the ball, we can be very, very good."
The goal came as the Thorns consistently pushed the attack as the second half ticked along.
Raso cut in front of defender Jaelene Hinkle to meet a right-footed cross from the left side by Meghan Klingenberg. The ball bounced off the inside of the right post and spun across the goal line.
Raso, listed at 5-4, said it was the first time she has scored with her head in a game. Klingenberg, the left back listed at 5-2, joked she was trying to pick out Raso in front of goal.
"I definitely picked out the smallest player on the field," Klingenberg said. "It's this perfect opportunity to play it to another shorty and get a little bit of glory for her."
North Carolina nearly tied the game almost immediately, but a flying header by McCall Zerboni from three yards in front of the goal zipped over the crossbar.
Without regular starters Amandine Henry, Nadia Nadim and Dagny Brynjarsdottir, who begin play Sunday in the European Championships, Parsons gave rookie Tyler Lussi her first start. Lussi lined up as a left side attacker.
Ashleigh Sykes started and lined up on the right side of midfield, behind Raso.
The Thorns turned up their attack after playing a positionally sound first half.
In the 51st minute, North Carolina goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland had the near-post covered and made a reaction stop on a close-range half volley by forward Christine Sinclair.
In the first half, Portland tried to find space behind the pressing Courage and created several near chances, but no clear opportunities.
North Carolina had the best chance of the first 45 minutes when rookie Ashley Hatch found a cross from right back Taylor Smith but sent a close-range header high.
North Carolina coach Paul Riley, the former Thorns coach, said he was pleased with the effort from his players but thought it needed to be better.
Riley said the play of Allie Long and Lindsey Horan in Portland's midfield was the difference.
"Allie and Horan played well today. Their midfield was better than ours," Riley said. "We said coming in that if their midfield gets going and dominates the game, it would be a hard place to win."
The Thorns continue their three-game homestand with a 7 p.m. match against the Washington Spirit on Saturday, July 22.