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NWSL soccer: Controversial late penalty call spoils a strong Portland effort that keeps race tight.

PMG PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Portland defender Emily Menges clears the ball as OL Reign's Eugenie Le Sommer pursues during Wednesday's National Women's Soccer League match at Providence Park. The game ended a 1-1 draw.Scoring: Portland's Morgan Weaver scored her first regular-season NWSL goal. Sophia Smith dribbled into the penalty area and sent a quick pass to Weaver. With her back to goal, Weaver pivoted to yer left and sent a low right-footed shot inside the left post (1-0 Thorns, third minute).

OL Reign's Megan Rapinoe converts a penalty kick after a controversial handball call in the penalty area as a close-range shot hit Angela Salem in the arms as the Thorns' midfielder tried to protect her chest (1-1, 86th minute).

What it means: Portland (12-6-4) maintains its one-point lead on OL Reign (12-7-3) atop the NWSL standings with 40 points from 22 games. Neither team has yet clinched a first-round playoff bye because Gotham FC has four games remaining and could reach 41 points with four wins.

Storyline: The handball call in the final minutes that gifted OL Reign a draw will long be the talking point from this match. It spoiled a strong overall effort from the PMG PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Thorns midfielder Rocky Rodriguez dribbles up field on Wednesday as OL Reign's Jessica Fishlock chases. Portland and OL Reign played to a 1-1 draw at Providence Park.Thorns that included taking the game to the visitors for significant phases of the match. As Thorns coach Mark Parsons noted in his postgame comments, Salem did not make her body bigger; she had both arms across her chest. … In an interesting twist, Parsons said that Salem had studied the handball rule earlier Wednesday during a coaching class and knew she did not commit a foul by protecting her chest. … Parsons said that the same rule was misapplied a week ago when Becky Sauerbrunn was called for a handball with her elbow within the frame of her body in a 3-2 loss to Houston.

"The laws of the game are clear. You can Google them," Parsons said. "I don't understand how four people can get that wrong. Instead, twice in seven days (they did). I don't understand."

As unfortunate as that penalty decision was for the Thorns, they had plenty of chances to put away the match go just off target (and, they were fortunate that the Reign's Eugenie Le Sommer and Rapinoe each misfired on high-quality chances). Especially in the first half, Portland's high press and ability to quickly regain possession in attacking areas created enough chances that the Thorns could have led by two or three goals by halftime.

The Thorns control their destiny in terms of winning the NWSL regular-season shield. But they have a challenge in four days with a Sunday road match at Houston to conclude a stretch of four games over 12 days. Parsons, in fact, said OL Reign pushed the NWSL to schedule this match on Wednesday rather than after the upcoming international break. He called the fact that his team has to play four matches in 12 days "disrespectful." … the Reign have a quick turnaround, playing host to the Washington Spirit on Saturday night. It will be their third match in a seven-day window, with two of them at home and this match in Portland. The Thorns, by contrast, had to fly to Kansas City and now Houston on short rest.

It begs the question: As the NWSL Players Association negotiates for better working conditions, how much are schedule concerns a part of those discussions?

PMG PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Thorns players, including a jumping Christine Sinclair, mob Morgan Weaver after Weaver's third-minute goal gave Portland an lead on Wednesday at Providence Park.All that aside, the officiating isn't the central story if Portland scores another goal or two during the first hour when the Thorns were quicker to almost every second ball. By converting a second, or a third goal, it meant OL Reign had the opportunity to turn the result with a bounce or fortunate whistle.

Still, the Thorns, now winless in four games, felt good about the performance. Said Parsons, "Tonight was a really important performance, the team was excellent. Team was back to looking like ourselves."

Christine Sinclair said the Thorns are, for the most part, playing well without getting the results they want. She pointed to the strong defensive performance Wednesday against one of the league's best attacking teams as evidence:

"Our backline, they were tremendous tonight. In some one-on-one situations with, obviously, some talented players, and they did very well. I think tonight you saw us defend as a team. It started up top with Soph (Smith) and Weaver, just their ability to press and make the game predictable. Just the shame that the ref gave them a PK at the end. Players are supposed to be able to have arms, (I am) just not sure where they're supposed to be at this point."

Parsons on the challenge of traveling to Houston for Sunday's game: "When I see the team play tonight, I've got, I've got more energy than I've ever had. So proud of what the group did tonight. Their energy in the press was relentless. The soccer played (was) fluid to attack to create chances counter-pressing. I think the team are going to be pissed off with what's happened tonight. And I think, fortunately, the energy, adrenaline and chip on the shoulder is probably going to carry us through to Sunday." 

Up next: Portland at Houston, 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17 (Paramount+).

PMG PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Megan Rapinoe reacts after converting a controversial late penalty kick to earn OL Reign a 1-1 draw with the Portland Thorns on Wednesday, Oct. 13 at Providence Park.NWSL moves championship game — The National Women's Soccer League is moving its 2021 championship match from Portland to Louisville, the league announced Wednesday. The move was made at the request of the NWSL Players Association.

The Nov. 20 match will be televised at 9 a.m. Pacific Time by CBS (KOIN 6).

The Thorns released a statement saying they support the move and that the club will reach out to fans who have purchased tickets. The Thorns statement indicated that Portland was the only team to bid to host the game and was moving forward despite the inconvenience of a 9 a.m. start. The move means the game will be played at noon local time in Louisville.

Three Thorns get USWNT call — Portland players Lindsey Horan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Sophia Smith have been called into the U.S. Women's National Team for a pair of matches against Korea Republic on Oct. 21 at Kansas City, Kansas and Oct. 26 at St. Paul, Minnesota. Players will report to camp on Oct. 18, the day after Sunday's Thorns match at Houston.


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