Thorns earn draw at North Carolina
The shorthanded Portland Thorns weathered a second-half push from the North Carolina Courage on Saturday in a 1-1 draw in front of 6,172 fans at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.
Midge Purce scored in the third consecutive game to give Portland a first-half lead.
The Thorns are 4-1-3 (15) points after their seventh road game of the National Women's Soccer League season.
The Courage are 3-2-4 (13).
Saturday's game was a rematch of the 2018 NWSL championship game won by North Carolina, but neither team was close to the club that played for the title.
Between them, the Thorns and the Courage have 16 players away for the Women's World Cup. Portland has nine players at the tournament in France, and North Carolina has seven.
Additionally, Thorns center back Emily Menges is sidelined with a thigh injury and midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir is away on international duty.
Add in midfielder Angela Salem, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the previous match, and the Thorns were missing a dozen experienced players.
"To be able to come and work hard and be resilient and not give up big chances against a good team is great," Thorns coach Mark Parsons said.
Given the lack of depth, Parsons said Portland's best chance to get a win was to score more than one goal in the first half, when his team had the better of the chances.
"We just got tired," Parsons said, noting that several Portland players on the field had not yet played a full match this season.
"Mind-set, character, mentality drove us through tonight," Parsons said.
Purce scored her fourth goal of the season, all in the last three games, with a flick of the outside of her right foot. In the 26th minute, a looping ball out of midfield from Celeste Boureille took one big bounce as Purce ran under it and lifted the ball over oncoming goalkeeper Samantha Leshnak.
It was the first Thorns assist for Boureille.
North Carolina possessed the ball in the attacking half for most of the last 20 minutes of the first half. The Courage generated a couple of half-chances but attempted only two shots in the half.
In the second half, the Courage launched direct balls and crosses into Portland's 18-yard box. The Thorns stayed organized for the most part in their defending.
The North Carolina goal was similar to Portland's. Halftime substitute Julia Spetsmark scored in the 59th minute by turning into the penalty area at the end of a long ball from Merritt Mathias and lifting the ball up and over Portland goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom.
North Carolina attempted 18 shots in the second half, five on goal.
The Courage had two-thirds of possession in the game and spent most of the second half collecting every Portland clearing ball to keep the Thorns under attack.
Portland's 44 clearances and 42 percent passing told the story.
Portland's starting lineup had Eckerstrom in goal, Katherine Reynolds and Kelli Hubly at center back, Elizabeth Ball at right back and Meghan Klingenberg at left back.
The midfield included Boureille, rookies Madison Pogarch and Gabby Seiler with Ana Crnogorcevic in the most advanced midfield position. Purce and Simone Charley started up front.
Tyler Lussi replaced Charley in the 62nd minute. Emily Ogle made her pro debut in the 73rd minute, replacing Pogarch. Marissa Everett came on for Hubly in the 84th minute, with Seiler dropping into a central defending role.
Next for Portland is an 8 p.m. Friday game at Providence Park against the Utah Royals.
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