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By Paul Danzer/Portland Tribune/Portland's 1-0 win over Houston at Providence Park keeps hopes alive for a home playoff game

The Portland Thorns had the Houston Dash under pressure much of Saturday night at Providence Park.

But in front of 21,022 fans, the Thorns were feeling some heat, too.

Until a nifty play from a throw-in led to a Tobin Heath goal early in the second half, Portland — despite dominating possession and playing long stretches in the attacking third of the field — was in danger of getting blanked at home for the second game in a row. Instead, the 1-0 win keeps alive the Thorns hopes of hosting a National Women's Soccer League semifinal match next month.

Portland improved to 11-5-6 (39 points). With two games remaining, the Thorns trail second-place Chicago by two points. The Red Stars have one game left, so if Portland wins both of its remaining matches it will finish second and play host to. Chicago in the semifinals.

The Thorns visit Reign FC in Tacoma on Sept. 29 and close the regular season on Oct. 12 at home against Washington.

Chicago's lone remaining match is next Saturday at home against Utah, which means the Red Stars will have three weeks between their final game and the semifinals.

The Thorns were on top of the Dash from the start. They earned six corner kicks in the first 20 minutes, but couldn't find a Grade-A scoring chance against a disciplined Dash defense.

The breakthrough came in the 48th minute. Ellie Carpenter — who often makes long throw-ins from attacking positions — put a throw-in into the path of Lindsey Horan, who was able to dribble into the penalty area and send a pass back to Heath. Her left-footed shot from 10 yards gave goalkeeper Jane Campbell no chance.

"We talked about (the Dash) dropping hard on crosses and that the cutback was open," Heath said. Lindsey (Horan) actually wanted the cutback from me, but it was vice versa, so it was a nice little changeup there. It was a perfect pass and great for me to be able to finish it."

Heath's third goal of the season stood up for the win as Portland survived a couple of threats from Houston, including in the final seconds when it looked like Cecilia Kizer might have an open shot but the her touch was too strong and Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch pounced on the loose ball.

Both of Franch's saves came in the 54th minute. First she parried away a strong shot from Kristie Mewis, then Franch was perfectly positioned to gobble up a Christine Nairn shot from distance.

Coming off of a 6-0 home loss to North Carolina 10 days earlier, Thorns coach Mark Parsons praised the response from his team and said Saturday's performance was a good first step in the home stretch..

"We recover, we reflect," Parsons said of the nexts step. "We can build and look to improve our quality and look to improve our strengths and how we could play a little bit better while taking care of the most important thing which was fight and work like Thorns. I thought we did that tonight."

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@pauldanzer


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