Thorns on a roll
We suspect Mark Parsons did not have a good taste in his mouth on Saturday when he walked off the field at Seattle's Memorial Stadium.
But we're reasonably confident the Portland Thorns coach was pleased anyway.
Parsons kissed the artificial turf after his team dispatched rival Seattle 2-1 on the strength of two Hayley Raso goals and another strong defensive performance.
It was the first time a team coached by Parsons had won a game at the old stadium near the Space Needle. That includes semifinal losses in 2014 and 2015 when he was coach of the Washington Spirit.
The win was monumental for Portland, too. With it, the Thorns are the first team in the five-season history of the National Women's Soccer League to win 50 regular-season matches.
Beyond the record book, to gauge how much the Thorns mean to the success of the young league, look at the schedule. Three of Portland's final four games — including Saturday's 12:30 p.m. home match versus Washington — are the league's showcase on the Lifetime Network.
The Thorns dominated much of the game at Seattle, outshooting the Reign 25-6 and tying club records for shots attempted in one half (17 in the first half) and in a game (25).
Raso now shares the team lead in 2017 goals with Christine Sinclair (each with five this season), and she is a significant reason the Thorns are rolling along without Tobin Heath. Heath has not played this season because of a back issue, but she is expected to be available come playoff time.
If Heath is healthy, it will be interesting to watch how she is integrated into a club that is playing so well right now. In recent games, Allie Long has been coming off the bench, essentially tag-teaming with Amandine Henry (who is considered among the best midfielders in the world).
Raso will not play on Saturday against the Spirit. She had a bit too much zeal at the end of an energetic afternoon in Seattle and picked up her fifth yellow card of the season in stoppage time, meaning a one-game suspension.
As cathartic as the win at Seattle was, the Thorns remain a long shot to finish atop the NWSL standings. They are two points behind North Carolina, and the Courage have six games left while the Thorns have four (North Carolina's match at Houston was postponed because of hurricane Harvey).
Still, a second-place finish would mean a playoff home game and a chance to make up for last season's semifinal loss.
Having won seven of their last 10 matches, the Thorns are five points up on Chicago and Orlando — and eight points up on fifth-place Sky Blue.
The top four teams in the 10-team league make the semis. While the Thorns are in a good spot, one Parsons postgame comment said a mouthful:
"I think we go from this game knowing we could have scored a couple more goals and put the game to bed earlier and not had the stress near the end. So while it's a very strong performance, we want to keep moving forward and growing."