Portland Thorns race past visiting Louisville, again top NWSL standings
The Portland Thorns scored three goals in the first 11 minutes of the second half Wednesday, Sept. 21, to beat Racing Louisville 3-0 at Providence Park, a win that inches Portland back to the top of the National Women's Soccer League standings.
The Thorns are the first team to clinch a playoff spot — six of the 12 teams qualify. It is the sixth consecutive playoff berth, and a league-best eighth overall, for Portland.
Sophia Smith scored her 12th of the season, Sam Coffey the first of her career and Olivia Moultrie her third of the season in quick succession out of the halftime break to turn a tense situation into an enjoyable fall evening for the 15,652 fans.
Thorns, 47th minute — Sophia Smith ran onto an upfield ball from Kelli Hubly that eluded defender Gemma Bonner. Smith calmly touched the ball around goalkeeper Katie Lund and slotted the ball into the open net.
Thorns, 48th minute — Sam Coffey collected the ball on the right side of the penalty area, took a couple of touches to her left and delivered a low left-footed shot into the left side of the net.
Thorns, 56th minute — Olivia Moultrie calmly finished from about 12 yards after a making run out of midfield and receiving a flicked on header from Rocky Rodriguez from a Meghan Klingenberg ball into the 18-yard box.
Big picture: The first half was a continuation of the recent trend with the Thorns creating plenty of chances but not converting (in part due to a couple of balls cleared off the goal line). The breakthrough barely a minute into the second half relieved the pressure and opened a scoring outburst. With two games left in the regular season — including a Sunday visit from sixth-place Chicago, the Thorns are atop the standings — one point better than San Diego, OL Reign and two better than Houston and Kansas City in the tight NWSL table.
If Portland beats Chicago on Sunday, it can clinch first place when it faces Gotham FC on the road in the final match on Oct. 1.
Finishing the job: Portland might have been frustrated to find itself in a scoreless draw at halftime, but the goal from Smith right out of the break eased any frustration and Coffey's finish a minute later allowed the Thorns to play soccer without pressing the issue. On all three goals, the scorer was calm on the ball in the box, a poise that was perhaps lacking on a few of the first-half chances around goal.
Smith said she'd been hoping all match to be sent a ball over the top. And the entire team seemed thrilled that Hubly got her first assist on the play.
Said Smith: "I had been wanting that ball basically all game because I felt like it was on. So when she played it, I was just really friggin' excited. And it was perfect. Yeah. And I'm so happy for Kelly to get an assist."
Coffey has done most of her work this season as the tempo setter in midfield. On her goal. she received a pass from Natalia Kuikka, took a couple of touches with her right foot to create a shooting angle before taking her left-footed shot.
Moultrie, too, was able to settle the ball and find a shooting lane after making a clever run out of midfield to near the penalty spot.
Goals record: The Thorns' 43 goals this season are the most in club history. Coffey is the 14th player to score for Portland in league play, a single-season club record. The Thorns have scored 22 more goals than they've allowed. North Carolina is at plus-13 and San Diego is at plus-11. Goal differential is the first tiebreaker.
Busy stretch: Wednesday's match was the second in four days, with a third match coming on Sunday. Among the lineup rotation from coach Rhian Wilkinson, Hina Sugita did not play, Christine Sinclair for Moultrie and Morgan Weaver for Yazmeen Ryan came on just after the third goal, in the 72nd minute, Marissa Everett replaced Smith and Tegan McGrady replaced Klingenberg, and in the 79th minute Crustal Dunn made her Providence Park 2022 debut, replacing Coffey.
Feelin' good: Despite the hectic schedule, Smith said the Thorns seem to have a surprising amount of energy. For the second match in four days, Portland took 29 shots. In this case, 11 were on target and three found the net.
"We're in a really good spot. I think we are almost refreshed. And to say that at this time of the season is rare. I know last year at this point of the season, people were tired, rightly so. But I think this season, it feels different. There's a different energy. And I think everyone is just so focused on what our what our goal is, and that's to win the shield, and then it's to win the league."
Another clean sheet: Portland's eighth shutout of the season is tied for the league lead with San Diego. Bella Bixby has been in goal for all eight shutouts and leads NWSL keepers in shutouts.
Next Thorns match: Chicago at Portland, 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25 (FOX 12 Plus, Paramount+, Evoca).
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