Late score lifts Thorns
In multiple ways, Saturday was a night of 2017 firsts for the Portland Thorns at Providence Park.
Most important among them was their come-from behind victory of the season.
Goals from Allie Long and Mallory Weber made it happen as Portland rallied in the second half for a 2-1 win over the Washington Spirit in front of 18,478 fans.
The Thorns' second consecutive win improved Portland to 7-4-4 and into third place in the National Women's Soccer League with 25 points.
Washington, last in the 10-team league, fell to 3-8-3, despite a go-ahead goal from Havana Solaun.
"The most important thing is, all the group showed the mentality and mind-set to want to win this game," Thorns coach Mark Parsons said, noting that winning from behind is an important psychological hurdle to clear.
Solaun scored in the 58th minute, putting pressure on the Thorns to respond. It took about four minutes.
Long was in the perfect spot to finish a free-kick play in the 62nd minute. Tyler Lussi got a head to a long free kick sent into the penalty area by Emily Sonnett. Lussi directed the ball down toward the 6-yard box, where Long touched it inside the right post.
Weber scored the winner in the 80th minute. It came barely two minutes after she entered the game. She connected on a low cross from Ashleigh Sykes to score from close range.
It was the first Thorns goal for the second-year forward, who called it a relief.
"It's long overdue," Weber said.
Sykes made the delivery after beating a defender on the dribble into the right side of the penalty area. Her low cross was perfectly timed to meet Weber's run.
"Sykes gets that ball in practice all the time, and she beats her player and she always gets the cross off," Weber said. "I just had that confidence. I knew she was going to get there, so if I beat my player I was pretty confident she would get it to my foot."
Sykes spent much of the first half hanging deeper on the wing and helping to track Washington rookie Mallory Pugh. The mind-set changed at halftime and even became even more aggressive after the Spirit took their lead.
"Mark said at halftime that if you get a chance to go one-on-one with the backs we should do it. It was a good opportunity to get a little space and get it in the mixer, and 'Mal' was in the perfect spot for it," said Sykes, who crumpled to the turf with a leg cramp after the pass.
She did not see Weber's run toward goal.
"I was trusting that a teammate would be in the right position," Sykes said.
Given the tight race atop the standings, it was an important win and allowed the Thorns — those who are not busy with international soccer — to enjoy a few days off.
The Thorns will play their third consecutive home match on Aug. 5, when Houston visits Providence Park.
Between now and then, Long and Lindsey Horan will be with the U.S. for three matches in a week. Portland's Hayley Raso will be with Australia, which takes on the U.S. on Thursday in Seattle to open the four-team Tournament of Nations friendly tournament.
The Thorns did get one significant player back on Saturday as Katherine Reynolds saw her first action of the season for the Thorns, starting at right back. Scheduled to play only 45 minutes, Reynolds went 72 minutes before Celeste Boureille relieved her.