Corners lift Thorns past Spirit
Their old friend the corner kick helped keep the Portland Thorns on course Saturday night at Providence Park.
Emily Sonnett and Christine Sinclair turned Tobin Heath deliveries into goals and Hayley Raso gave Portland a quick lead en route to a 3-1 win over the Washington Spirit in front of 20,895 fans.
Portland maintained first place in the National Women's Soccer League. The Thorns are 9-6-3 (33 points) and four points ahead of second-place Chicago. The Spirit are 6-4-6 (21), seventh in the nine-team league.
Andi Sullivan scored the Washington goal.
It's the first time since games six and seven that the Thorns have won consecutive matches.
Set pieces have been a foundation of the Thorns' success under coach Mark Parsons, and two corner kicks from Heath produced goals on Saturday.
Sonnett converted in the first half with a clever volley from the near post, and Sinclair pushed the lead to 3-0 in the second half by putting a second ball home after Lindsey Horan's initial header deflected to her.
Parsons said the importance of free kicks and corners was re-emphasized leading into Saturday's game. Parsons praised assistant coach Rich Gunney, who is responsible for preparing the plan for attacking and defending restarts.
Parsons said the message leading into the match was:
"We've always felt at our club that when we get a set piece we can score and it's time to put the ball in the back of the net and make sure that feeling is there — not just for us, but for the opposition."
Washington found more opportunities than Parsons would have liked in the second half, and Sullivan took advantage of space just outside the 18-yard box to score a well-taken goal in the 68th minute that gave Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch no chance and breathed life into the Spirit.
Washington outshot Portland 15-12 in the game, 10-4 in the second half.
The Thorns had a 6-5 advantage in shots on target and generally were able to limit time and space for Washington to attack.
The crowd was the third over 20,000 this season, and the fans didn't have to wait to celebrate.
Raso gave Portland a fifth-minute lead, getting to a rebound and curving in a shot from 16 yards.
A forward ball from defender Emily Menges sent Sinclair up the left side behind the defense. Sinclair delivered a cross that Dagny Brynjarsdottir just missed reaching. The ball bounced off of a defender and Raso was first to react to score her fourth goal of the season.
The Australian international said the Thorns have gained confidence and momentum as they've had time to train together since the Women's World Cup.
"I think we're playing very good football at the moment," Raso said.
Raso nearly doubled the lead in the 18th minute thanks to a wonderful Heath through ball, but Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe turned away the opportunity from the right-wing side of the box.
On the resulting corner kick, Sonnett made a near-post run and turned Heath's delivery into the goal with a right-footed volley.
The assist was the fourth of the season for Heath and her NWSL-leading 25th career assist.
Sinclair scored her team-leading eighth goal of the season in the 63rd minute to make the score 3-0. Lindsey Horan got her head to a Heath corner kick. Horan's attempt was blocked, but the ball fell to Sinclair in space.
In the 28th minute Washington's Rose Lavelle took a ball to the head as Sonnett, her U.S. teammate, tried to play a ball forward. Lavelle, who scored the second goal in the World Cup finals win over the Netherlands, returned after about nine minutes and finished the match.
The Thorns will be home for four of their six remaining games, including a Aug. 25 noon match with Chicago, which is second in the NWSL going into its Wednesday home game against Orlando.
Portland midfielder Gabby Seiler suffered a torn ACL in training this week and is out for the season. Seiler played in 15 of Portland's first 17 games, mostly as a holding midfielder. She missed all of the 2018 season with a knee injury but emerged as a key player in Portland's midfield as a rookie this season.
In the 36th minute, the Thorns' supporters group, the Riveters chanted "Gabby Seiler" in recognition of her contribution this year.
Seiler had played the most minutes of any Thorns midfielder this season, and Parsons said he hoped the injury wouldn't prevent her from getting serious consideration for the NWSL rookie of the year award.
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