Thorns, Spirit battle to draw
The Portland Thorns took a second-half lead but settled for a 1-1 draw with the Washington Spirit on Sunday at the National Women's Soccer League Challenge Cup.
Lindsey Horan scored with a diving header in the 69th minute for Portland. Washington tied it in the 77th minute with a Sam Staab header from a corner kick.
Portland has two draws and a loss for two points from three games so far in the tournament at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah. The Thorns are in fifth place in the standings. All eight participating teams will qualify for the quarterfinal round.
The Thorns now have a week before completing the preliminary phase of the tournament on Monday, July 13 against OL Reign. That game kicks off at 9:30 a.m. and will be streamed live on CBS All Access.
Portland continues to struggle on the attack, but coach Mark Parsons was upbeat in his postgame comments. He called Sunday's performance a "massive step up" from the first two matches of the tournament.
Horan provided another huge performance. In addition to her goal, a powerful flying header that connected with a Meghan Klingenberg free kick, Horan was all over the field throughout the match, creating attack opportunities and consistently disrupting Washington efforts to work through midfield.
"Third game in a week. Obviously it was difficult, but our team came out flying and we created a lot of chances. Probably should have scored some of those chances," Horan said. "I'm really proud of how we performed this whole game and kind of came at them."
Horan, midfield partner Rocky Rodriguez, forward Tyler Lussi and defender Emily Menges each went the distance for the Thorns.
With defender Becky Sauerbrunn out of the tournament because a hip injury is expected to sideline her for about four weeks, Kelli Hubly started alongside Menges in the center of the Portland defense.
Bella Bixby played another strong game in goal, making four saves. Her only save of the second half was a terrific reaction shot to deny Ashley Hatch. Bixby made three first-half saves, the best diving to her right to punch away a low shot from Kumi Yokoyama.
Portland has scored two goals through three games. Given the youth at forward — and the absence of top draft pick Sophia Smith because of injury — it's hardly a surprise that goals are tough to come by. But Parsons like's a lot of what he's seen.
"We're an aggressive, attacking, disciplined team and tonight I though we were those three things," Parsons said.
In a way, the coach said, the lack of wins will keep the team focused on improvement during the week between games.
"This has been just a good start, lacking some points. But we got work to do. The second we think we haven't got work to do is dangerous," Parsons said. "We're doing great stuff. We've got to keep that work going because I think we're way ahead of where I thought we would (be)."
Teams are allowed five substitutions and Parsons used them all. Midfielder Gabby Seiler and defender Katherine Reynolds each made her tournament debut after recovering from injuries. For Seiler, who played the final 20 minutes, it was the first game action since she tore her ACL last August.
Christen Westphal started at right back and Klingenberg on the left side. Angela Salem joined Horan and Rodriguez in the starting midfield. Christine Sinclair went 60 minutes up front and rookie Morgan Weaver played 70 minutes.
The Thorns carried much of the play in the first half but again went scoreless. The best chance was a Lussi header in the 16th minute that went high off a Horan cross. Horan and Sinclair were among the Thorns who had second-half chances that didn't fall, including a 88th-minute diving save by Washington goalkeeper Ashley Bledsoe to deny Horan a second goal.
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