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Portland wins for the first time at North Carolina, extends league lead with 10th shutout.

The goal: Sophia Smith ran onto a ball out of midfield from Christine Sinclair and slotted a shot past North Carolina goalkeeper Casey Murphy for her team-leading sixth goal of the season (1-0 Thorns, 57th minute).

What it means: Portland improves to 11-4-2 (35 points). The Thorns are three points up on second-place Reign FC and six up on third-place North Carolina. Portland has two games in hand over the Reign and has played one fewer game than North Carolina.

Reaction: The Thorns won at North Carolina for the first time and put some breathing room between themselves and the Courage. Coach Mark Parsons downplayed the importance of a breakthrough in Cary, North Carolina.

"The moment we think about our focus on that, then our eyes are on the wrong thing," Parsons said.

Portland had a lot of possession in the attacking third before the breakthrough, which came on a direct ball in behind the defense. Smith felt she should have scored earlier in the match.

"I had big chances in the first half that I should have put away. I took ownership over that and the next one I had I put it away," Smith said.

Portland took 23 shots to 11 for North Carolina, though the shots on goal were 8-6.

Bella Bixby made six saves, including a one-on-one stop when Lynn Williams got behind the defense in the 30th minute. For the most part, the Thorns limited the Courage counterattack opportunities.

Up next: After an international break, Portland at Chicago, 5 p.m. Sept. 25.

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