Portland Thorns, North Carolina Courage play to 3-3 draw
The Portland Thorns extended their unbeaten run to 10 games and moved into a tie for first place in the National Women's Soccer League on Friday, Aug. 5.
The good news all but stopped there for the home team in front of 17,139 fans at Providence Park, where a two-goal halftime lead turned into a 3-3 draw with the North Carolina Courage.
There were a couple more high-quality goals form Sophia Smith, but the overall performance felt disjointed as the Thorns allowed as many goals in their eighth home match of the regular season as they'd allowed in the previous seven.
Thorns, eighth minute — Sophia Smith pounces on an errant back pass, dribbles into the box with three defenders retreating, chips the ball past Abby Erceg into space for a clinical finish for her 10th goal of the regular season.
Thorns, 24th minute — Morgan Weaver scores her third of the season, putting home the rebound after North Carolina goalkeeper Casey Murphy stopped a Christine Sinclair effort. The goal came from a wonderful combination play after Meaghan Nally won possession along the right touchline, triggering a sequence that involved Hina Sugita, Sinclair and Smith in the buildup.
Courage, 61st minute — Diana Ordonez places a difficult header just inside the post from a corner kick delivered by Carson Pickett.
Courage, 72nd minute — Ordonez delivers a smashing header off a cross from Ryan Williams. Ordonez had a running start and jumped between Portland defenders Kelli Hubly and Natalia Kuikka.
Thorns, 72nd minute — Smith scores her 11th of the season on a breakaway, sent behind the defense by a perfectly-timed pass out of midfield by Olivia Moultrie. Smith calmly waited for goalkeeper Murphy to go to ground and placed her shot into the open goal.
Courage — Jaelene Daniels followed in her own shot after Portland goalkeeper Bella Bixby got a piece of her first close-range attempt, set up by a Meredith Speck cross.
Big picture — The Thorns' 10-match unbeaten run has them back atop the National Women's Soccer League standings, tied with San Diego. Both have 25 points from 14 matches. Portland is 6-1-7. San Diego 7-3-4.
The Thorns will look at this as dropped points, seeing a two-goal lead disappear in the second half. North Carolina's three goals match the total scored by opponents in the previous seven regular-season home games.
Portland coach Rhian Wilkinson gave goalkeeper Bella Bixby credit for salvaging a point with several high-difficulty saves and said her team played two individually when the match got challenging in the second half.
"I thought North Carolina was the better team tonight and that we had some fantastic goals," Wilkinson said. "When you get into transitional games like that against a team that is excellent and transition, it's just a wide-open game. And I have to say I was frustrated, and I know (Thorns players) were as well that we weren't able to impose what we like to do on the ball."
Sophia Smith keeps rolling — With her two goals Friday, Sophia Smith moved into a tie with San Diego's Alex Morgan with 11 on the season. Both goals were examples of Smith's composure in the box and in big moments. On the first goal she dribbled three defenders into retreat and flicked the ball around Erceg to create the shot. On the second goal, a breakaway, she calmly waited until goalkeeper Murphy went to ground and then delivered the ball to the net.
"(On the first goal) I knew that defenders were kind of running with me in one direction. I decided to go against the grain and take that touch and that, nine times out of 10, is going to work because the defender doesn't have momentum. And then just try to stay calm and find the goal and place it," Smith said. "The second one, same kind of thing. Try to stay calm, not panic."
Courage dictate play — Even down 2-0 at half, the Courage were dangerous a few times in what felt like a dominant first half from Portland. In the second half, Wilkinson noted, North Carolina was able to keep more players in attacking areas because Portland wasn't possessing the ball in the attacking third. Those extra players up field made it easier for North Carolina to win back possession in attacking spaces — which is what the Thorns did so well themselves to build their halftime lead.
"When stress comes, we've got to actually open up our vision. We've got to connect more," Wilkinson said. "And I thought today we really went insular in terms of they tried to take care of themselves or to keep the ball and not get their head up and look. And that's a piece that we've just got to get better and better at."
Moultrie to World Cup — Olivia Moultrie leaves Saturday for the Under-20 World Cup. The 16-year-old is the youngest player on the United States roster for the tournament that runs Aug. 10-28 in Costa Rica. The first match for the United States is Thursday against Ghana.
Next Thorns match — Portland at Washington, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10 (Paramount Plus).
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