Thorns get a kick out of triumphant return
On a night when so many things went right for the Portland Thorns, the play from their 5-0 throttling of the Houston Dash most likely to last in club lore is one that didn't land in the goal.
Lindsey Horan unleashed a bicycle kick in the 32nd minute that was destined for Goal of the Year until goalkeeper Jane Campbell managed to deflect the ball off the crossbar.
"You see a lot of bikes, but she hit it so well," Portland teammate Tobin Heath said. "I thought Jane should have just let it go in. Why did she save that? That was a shame. It counts in my book for a lot of things."
By that point on Wednesday night, Campbell already had picked the ball out of her goal four times as the Thorns treated a club-record crowd of 22,329 at Providence Park to one joyful half of soccer.
Hayley Raso scored twice in the first half, and Horan and Christine Sinclair also converted in the first 23 minutes as Portland came out flying in the first home match in months with all of its international stars on display.
"We just wanted to come out and put on a show," Horan said. "We were moving for each other. We were playing with purpose and just having fun."
Heath had assists on the first two goals — a seventh-minute Horan blast and a 12th-minute Raso tap-in. Midge Purce set up the next two, sprinting into the box to draw a penalty kick that Sinclair converted in the 18th minute and then setting up Raso's second goal in the 23rd.
An own goal in the 72nd minute from a Tyler Lussi shot accounted for the fifth goal.
The Thorns improved to 7-2-5 (26 points) and continue to lead the NWSL. Portland plays seven of its 10 remaining games at home.
The Dash are 4-6-4 (16), seventh in the nine-team league.
Houston played four days earlier at Washington, and Thorns coach Mark Parsons acknowledged the difficulty of that short turnaround with cross-country travel. But he credited his team with taking advantage of a physically taxed opponent.
"That first 25 to 30 minutes was full-throttle Thorns. Electric football," Parsons said, crediting defensive cohesion and ball movement for creating high-quality scoring chances.
He was especially excited by how well Heath and Sinclair got the ball moving through midfield into attacking spaces.
"I think that was the best half of football that 'Sinc' and Tobin had between the lines, because when the ball went into them they had it for milliseconds and then the ball was on the move again into areas where we could score a goal or create a goal," Parsons said.
When Parsons relayed that opinion to the team at halftime, Heath said she had a ready explanation.
"Sinc and I looked at each other and said we missed playing with each other. It was nice to be back together."
Horan and Heath are still feeling fatigue from their World Cup efforts, but the excitement of playing again at Providence Park energized them.
"Just spectacular. This place never stops amazing me, said Heath, explaining that the fabulous first half was about more than good execution.
"I think it was more of a feeling," she said. "It was everybody wanting to be back together, wanting to play."
Heath and Horan were joined in the lineup by U.S. national team teammates Emily Sonnett and Adrianna Franch, who helped Portland secure its fifth shutout through 14 games. Franch made four saves, including quality stops early in the second half on chances for Rachel Daly and Sofia Huerta.
The final goal came with Lussi getting to a loose ball in the box and driving it off of Campbell. It was ruled an own goal but was another impactful moment from Lussi, who had scored twice off the bench in the previous four games. She also drew the foul to set up the Heath free kick that led to the final goal.
All nine Thorns World Cup participants were introduced to the appreciative crowd before the match, and Heath said a few words, acknowledging the fan support and noting that Portland is invested in soccer every day, not only in World Cup years.
The only one of the nine who didn't get on the field was Australian Ellie Carpenter. She suffered a right foot injury in last week's game at Utah.
Before the game and a couple of times Wednesdaym there were rousing "equal pay" chants initiated by the Riveters supporters group.
The loudest cheer of the night, though, came on the bicycle attempt by Horan.
"I've been waiting for the moment I got a bike, and that sucked," Horan said.
In the nine days before the Thorns will return to action at home against Sky Blue FC (8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3), Horan has a training plan.
"I think every training I'm going to. practice bikes and get them to the side or the upper 90 instead of right in the middle of the goal," she said with a smile.
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