After settling for a disappointing 1-1 draw with last-place Sky Blue FC at home in June, the Portland Thorns entered Saturday’s rematch in New Jersey desperately in need of three critical points on the road.
The Thorns got the win, but they sure didn’t make it look easy.
Portland (8-5-5, 29 points)managed to grind out a 2-1 victory over Sky Blue FC (0-13-3, 3 points) at a rainy Yurcak Field in Piscataway, New Jersey Saturday. The Thorns have now won three consecutive games, which is their longest winning streak of the season.
The Thorns jumped into third place in the NWSL standings with the victory. With six games left in the regular season, only one point separates the Thorns from the fifth-place Chicago Red Stars in a tight race for a playoff spot. The top four teams in the league will earn berths to the postseason.
Portland was facing a Sky Blue FC team that has struggled throughout the 2018 NWSL season. Sky Blue is the only club in the NWSL that has yet to win a game this year and the New Jersey side was officially eliminated from playoff contention with Saturday’s loss.
It initially looked like Portland might coast to an easy win Saturday.
Despite missing four key players due to international duty in Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath, Emily Sonnett and Adrianna Franch, Portland took a two-goal lead just seven minutes into the match. Sky Blue was also impacted by the international call-ups and was forced to play without star midfielder Carli Lloyd.
Thorns forward Hayley Raso, who missed the first 11 games of the season with a knee injury, got on the end of a pass from Christine Sinclair in the 4th minute before dribbling into the box and firing a shot into the net to give Portland an early lead. It was Raso’s first goal of the season.
Portland extended its lead three minutes later when Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Casey misplayed a pass while under pressure from Raso. The ball fell to Thorns forward Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, who scored to put the Thorns up 2-0. Crnogorcevic now has four goals in the last six games.
But Sky Blue started to settle into the match after the early goals from the Thorns and was the more dangerous team for the rest of the game.
Imani Dorsey received a pass from Savannah McCaskill behind Portland’s back line in the 27th minute. Thorns goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom tried to come out and challenge Dorsey, but Dorsey sent her shot off Eckerstrom and into the net to close the gap.
Sky Blue continued to pressure the Thorns throughout the remainder of the game, twice putting shots off the post and forcing Eckerstrom to come up with multiple saves. Sky Blue,which has only netted 12 goals this season, outshot the Thorns 17-8 in the game.
Despite the pressure from Sky Blue, Portland managed to hang on to its lead and eke out the critical win. Things won’t get any easier for the Thorns, who will face the first place North Carolina Courage in their next game on Aug. 5.
— Jamie Goldberg | firstname.lastname@example.org
2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
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