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Portland Thorns earn win over Sky Blue FC, clinch playoff bid despite poor air quality

It was a tale of two divergent clubs Wednesday night at a hazy Providence Park.

The Portland Thorns overcame the unhealthy air quality that almost forced the game’s cancellation and a late goal from Sky Blue FC to clinch a playoff berth with the 2-1 victory. The Thorns’ win, their 10th of the season behind goals from captain Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath, moved the defending NWSL champions into the postseason for the third-straight year.

Sky Blue, meanwhile, continued their fall toward NWSL infamy with the loss. Carli Lloyd’s team has just four games remaining to get its first win of the season.

The Thorns opened the scoring early when Sinclair netted her ninth goal of the season on a penalty kick in the 13th minute. Lindsey Horan earned the PK for her side after getting clipped as she tried to sidestep Erica Skroski at the top of the box.

Heath appeared to put the game out of reach in the second half when she bent her left-footed free kick inside the far post for her fifth goal of the season. The Sky Blue defenders and goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan looked to be so preoccupied with the runners, they let the ball slip right by.

Sky Blue, which played the Thorns to a 1-1 draw in their first meeting in June, didn’t quit. First, a corner kick from rookie Savannah McCaskill found the head of Madison Tiernan, who directed it firmly off the crossbar. Still pressing late into the game, Sky Blue penetrated the Thorns’ backline until midfielder Sarah Killion received the ball in the box in the 85th minute and drilled the ball past keeper Adrianna French with her left foot.

 It was again too little, too late for Sky Blue, who don’t have an easy remaining schedule besides one winnable game against the second-to-last place Washington Spirit.

The Thorns wrap up their season against the Spirit at home on Saturday before traveling Sept. 7 to the Seattle Reign, who clinched a postseason berth with a win over the Houston Dash on Tuesday night.

NWSL officials mandated the teams take four hydration breaks, with one break every 15 minutes throughout the game, after the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality extended the air quality advisory into Thursday. Pollution hung in the air due to recent wildfires in the area.

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