Sunday, May 2: Thorns 1, Dash 1
The goals: Houston's Shea Groom scored in first-half stoppage time. A driven delivery from Veronica Latsko deflected to Groom who scored from about 14 yards out.
Christine Sinclair scored a goal for Portland in the 77th minute that mirrored the Houston goal. Sinclair converted a deflected low delivery by Simone Charley, who got behind the defense on the right wing,
The skinny: Portland (3-0-1, 10 points) had wrapped up home field for the May 8 NWSL Challenge Cup final against NY/NJ Gotham FC before taking the field at Houston. But the Thorns showed from the first whistle that they were up for this match. Sinclair nearly scored in the first 45 seconds, and Portland had a couple of dangerous set pieces and a 25-yard shot from Crystal Dunn that forced a diving save by Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell.
Except for a stretch of 20 minutes or so after the first-half hydration break, Portland was on the front foot pretty consistently, with 63% of possession and forcing Campbell to make six saves. But, with Houston (1-0-3, six points) keeping numbers behind the ball and making it difficult for Portland to attack through the middle, the Thorns had to be patient. They finally found the tying goal through a quick move by Charley on the right wing and a smart run into the penalty area by Sinclair.
The match was played at a high pace, and Portland coach Mark Parsons said it was the best match he's seen in this Challenge Cup tournament.
NWSL Challenge Cup final: There was no word as of late Sunday if any fans will be able to attend the May 8 Challenge Cup final, which starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 8, at Providence Park and will be televised by CBS/KOIN 6. NY/NJ Gotham FC (formerly Sky Blue FC) went 2-0-2 to win the East Division. Gotham FC features former Thorns Midge Purce (two Challenge Cup goals), Allie Long (recently traded from OL Reign) and Ife Onumonu (two Challenge Cup assists).
Lineup notes: Portland used its five substitutes to keep fresh players on the perimeter and up top in the Houston humidity. Up top, Sophia Smith played 61 minutes and Morgan Weaver 29, with Tyler Lussi (first half) and Charley (second half) the other forward. At outside back, Natalia Kuikka played the first half and Christen Westphal the second on the right and Meghan Klingenberg went 79 minutes before Madison Pogarch replaced her on the left.
In the more defensive central midfield position, Angela Salem started and went 61 minutes and Rocky Rodriguez finished the match. Sinclair, Lindsey Horan and Crystal Dunn went the distance in midfield, Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelli Hubly played center back and Adrianna Franch made one save in goal.
Parsons reaction: "The mentality of our group is, this game was important because it's a chance to play, it's a chance to get better together, it's a chance to build relationships (and) connections. I'm really proud that we showed the (strong) mentality piece tonight on the road again."
Sinclair reaction: "Proud of the bravery we showed to play out (of the back), to play midfielders under pressure. It's the first time we've been down this season, too, so it was nice to see the fight in us."
Sauerbrunn reaction: Becky Sauerbrun said that Houston's ability to counterattack with speed was a test for Portland. "I think they gave us a lot of good looks, a lot of good tests. I'm happy with how the team did today. I think it was a game that we needed to play to make sure that we keep getting better and better."
Up next: 10 a.m. Saturday, May 8, NY/NJ Gotham FC visits Providence Park for the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup championship match (CBS/KOIN television).
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