Lussi nods Thorns to victory
The Portland Thorns made their coach and 18,909 fans sweat on Sunday afternoon at Providence Park before Tyler Lussi nodded the hosts to an unlikely 4-3 win over the Orlando Pride and into a share of first place in the National Women's Soccer League.
Lussi's 94th-minute header of a corner kick delivered by Meghan Klingenberg rescued the home team from what was about to end as a disappointing draw.
"Give me a seat, some air con, and some water, bring my heart rate down," Portland coach Mark Parsons said. "ESPN better send some commission to Portland and Orlando 'cause that was a heck of a way to open up TV games."
Broadcast on ESPNews, the match was the first of a package of 14 NWSL games to be shown this season on ESPN networks.
Avoiding the draw propelled the Thorns to a 6-2-4 record (22 points). They are tied with the North Carolina Courage. Orlando is eighth at 2-9-2 (8).
Portland's four United States national team members — Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnett and Adriana Franch — have not rejoined the team yet after last week's World Cup victory. Franch was in the crowd for Sunday's game.
Orlando's three U.S. team members -- Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger -- also did not play.
The Thorns took the lead in the third minute, with forward Hayley Raso blocking Orlando goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer's kick and sending the ball into an open net. It was her first goal in her first start of the season.
"I could just hear Mark (Parsons) screaming at me, 'Press her! Press her!'" said Raso, who played with the Australian national team in the World Cup. "So I went in, and it paid off early."
Portland was aggressive offensively in the first half, spending plenty of time in Orlando's box. The Thorns got off 13 shots and had possession for 58 percent of the first half. Orlando only had three shots in the first. For Portland, it was a welcome change of pace after being shut out in two of the last three games, by Utah (0-0 draw) and Reign FC (1-0 loss).
But despite several great chances, Portland didn't turn that energy into a second or third goal before halftime.
In the 12th minute, Orlando's Toni Pressley blocked a Raso shot with her head to save a goal, then got up and blocked a follow-up shot from Sinclair. In the 18th minute, Kopmeyer reacted to deny a close-range Elizabeth Ball header from one of Portland's seven first-half corner kicks.
"We should've scored a lot of goals in the first 30 minutes," Parsons said. "Could've been three or four by the end of the half and could've had five or six. So we've got to be better at putting the ball in the back of the net because we started the season electrifying putting the ball in the back of the net, just lost a bit of momentum."
Orlando came close to evening the score with a header from Rachel Hill in the 40th minute. The shot went just right off the top crossbar, but Portland was safe going to halftime up 1-0.
Raso had another shot at a goal in the 52nd minute after a series of headers found their way neatly in front of the forward. Raso let a shot fly but was just wide left.
"I thought Raso had a big impact," Parsons said.
A 10-minute flurry soon followed, with four goals scored during that time.
It started in the 58th minute. Kopmeyer came off her line for a cross into the box by Elizabeth Ball, but defender Shelina Zadorsky also tried to play the ball. Thorns forward Midge Purce took advantage and netted a header for her team-leading sixth goal of the season.
Orlando didn't take long to respond. Marta kicked a powerful ball from outside of the box into the top right corner of the net in the 61st minute. The Brazilian legend has scored four goals in three games since returning from the World Cup.
"I think lack of focus," Parsons said about giving up the goal to Marta. "We hit it really hard this week and trained really hard and probably did too much. ... You can't do that to yourselves. We keep talking about if you stand still or switch off for a split second, anyone can hurt you, especially when Marta's on the pitch."
The Thorns' Christine Sinclair scored her fourth goal of the season with a shot to the bottom left corner off an assist from Caitlin Foord in the 66th minute. Earlier in the game, Sinclair had logged her 10,000th minute in her NWSL career and is only the 10th player to do so in NWSL history.
An own goal by Emily Menges two minutes later, however, brought the game back within one very quickly. That was Marta's doing, too, as she dribbled deep into the penalty area before her attempt from near the left post deflected off Menges.
The revived Pride kept pushing and got even in the 90th minute, when Erin Greening launched a shot from top of the 18-yard box. A sloppy play in midfield by Portland led to an Orlando free kick. Marta sent it into the penalty area, and Greening was first to Sinclair's attempt to head the ball out of danger.
Lussi made amends for the Thorns by delivering her second winner off the bench.
"I think we all had a feeling that once they scored the tying goal we were going to win this game," Lussi said. "This team is built on that fight and desire to win every play, and ... in stoppage time, we know we're going to win, especially in front of our amazing fans."
Lussi shook free on the back post and timed her run perfectly to meet Klingenberg's corner kick — the only corner after halftime for Portland.
"Yeah, that was amazing," Lussi said of her header. "Klingenberg played a perfect ball, and she'd been playing perfect balls the entire game, the entire season. So the ball got there, and I just followed it. I had to redirect it in, and nothing special on the header. Just needed to make sure it ended up in the back of the net."
Portland's next match is 7 p.m. PT Friday on the road at Utah. The Thorns have eight home games and four road games (two at Utah and two at Reign FC) remaining this season.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)