PORTLAND, Ore. — After a historically bad showing in their previous two matches, the Portland Thorns appear to have put their season back on track.
A Tobin Heath goal Saturday buoyed the Thorns past the Houston Dash, 1-0, lifting the Thorns (11-5-6, 39 points) within striking distance of second-place Chicago Red Stars and a home playoff match.
The Thorns have clinched their spot in the playoffs while the Dash are out of the playoffs.
After a dominating but fruitless first half in front of 21,022 fans without a goal, the Thorns wasted no time after the break. In the 48th minute after a fast restart, Lindsey Horan sent a low-skipping cross into the box that Heath redirected one-time into the goal.
Heath’s celebration — trotting to the corner with her arms outstretched and her head tilted skyward — seemed to be more relief than jubilation. The goal snapped a streak of more than 260 minutes without a goal for the Thorns after being shut out in their previous two matches.
“My first thought was, ‘Great quick thinking for the restart, great ball from Linds, and good calm finish,’ ” Thorns coach Mark Parson said. “After that, relief.”
The Dash (7-11-4, 25 points) came to Portland needing a win to realistically keep their playoff hopes alive. With the loss, even if the Dash win their final two matches of the season, the best they can finish is on 31 points, which the fifth-place Seattle Reign and the fourth-place Utah Royals have now, but since the Royals and Reign face each other, the Dash won’t be able to surpass both.
“It’s always like this at this part of the season,” Heath said. “These last couple games always matter for so much, which is great — it’s a testament to the competitiveness of the league.”
It seemed the Thorns would be eager to prove that their last match, a stunning 6-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage, was a fluke. Indeed, the Thorns dominated the first half Saturday, but had nothing to show for it. The Thorns controlled 65% of the possession, crossed the ball 25 times, had nine corner kicks, and out-shot the Dash 12-to-3 in the first half, but put zero shots on target.
“We were a little bit anxious tonight, a little bit urgent, a little bit desperate to get the early goal,” Parsons said. “But the way we got on the front foot was outstanding.”
The Thorns’ fortunes turned after the break, but the Dash also pushed numbers forward, getting a couple of dangerous chances of their own, including one that forced an Adrianna Franch parry in the 53rd minute on Kristie Mewis.
The Thorns’ back-to-back losses coming into Saturday’s game were their first since 2017. The last time the Thorns have lost three games in a row was in 2015, a record the Thorns avoided equaling with their win over the Dash.
The North Carolina Courage clinched the NWSL Shield earlier in the day Saturday, ending the Thorns’ campaign after Portland sat atop the NWSL standings for much of the season until their recent string of bad results. Also in the day’s other results, Samantha Kerr set a new NWSL single-season scoring record and clinched playoffs for the Chicago Red Stars.
Up next, the Dash have a quick turnaround to a Wednesday match-up as they host the Washington Spirit, a match that could have major playoff implications for the Spirit.
The Thorns, meanwhile, get a week of rest before they head up the road to Tacoma, Washington next Sunday to face Reign FC in a rivalry match where both sides will be clawing for playoff position.