PORTLAND, Ore. — When the Portland Thorns huddled and tried to regroup halfway through the first half, it seemed like they knew the NWSL Shield was quickly slipping away.
The North Carolina Courage scored three goals in the first 25 minutes Wednesday en route to a stunning 6-0 win, dealing a devastating blow to the Thorns’ chances to win the NWSL Shield. With the result, the Courage overtook the Thorns at No. 1 on the NWSL table and look poised to clinch the regular season NWSL Shield again.
The six-goal loss was the worst in Portland Thorns history.
“We’re embarrassed by our performance and I think we need to have a really tough week of training and look toward the next game,” Thorns forward Hayley Raso said.
She added: “Physically, we weren’t there. Mentally, once we went down a couple of goals, it’s hard to bounce back from.”
The Thorns’ evening had all but unraveled in an early nine-minute stretch that saw goals from Debinha and Lynn Williams put the Thorns behind by three. After the halftime break, the Thorns continued to struggle to defend crosses as Crystal Dunn and Williams fired twice more.
The Courage’s first goal was a crafty bit of combination play in the 15th minute. Dunn crossed the ball and Jessica McDonald dummied it, letting the ball roll through her legs, and Debinha ran onto it and finished.
“We were really on,” Dunn said. “We clicked. We were confident on the ball. We moved the ball and played the way we love to play, which is fast and dynamic. It’s not easy coming here but we knew to be extra focused and play for each other.”
Williams scored twice more in the next several minutes, first by redirecting a ball Debinha knocked toward goal, and then by tapping a Merritt Mathias cross past Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
The second half wasn’t an improvement.
In the 61st minute, Dunn knocked a Jaelene Hinkle cross into the goal — a similar goal to both of Williams’ first-half goals. In the 68th minute, Williams scored again, firing past Franch on a breakaway. Kristen Hamilton added the sixth goal in the 90th minute.
“This was our best performance of the season,” Courage coach Paul Riley said. “We’ve been simmering for a while but we hadn’t really gotten a 90-minute performance out of the team. Tonight, they were really good, start to finish.”
The game saw the controversy over the Iron Front ban in MLS continue as several flags with the logo were displayed by members of the Rose City Riveters supporters group. Although the NWSL hasn’t issued a similar ban, the Timbers have said the ban will be enforced at any games in its stadium.
A large tifo from the Riveters featured the Iron Front logo with the words “anti-homophobia, anti-racist, anti-fascist” serving as the three downward-facing arrows.
Tonight's @PDXRivetersSG tifo is an Iron Front design with the words "anti-racism" and anti-fascism" taking the place of the arrows. Can't make out what the first one says. #NWSL #BAONPDX #PORvNC #AUnitedFront pic.twitter.com/kWjLKZBhdR
— Caitlin Murray (@caitlinmurr) September 12, 2019
In honor of the anniversary of 9/11, a group of military enlistees were sworn-in during a ceremony at halftime of the game where they pledged to “obey the President of the United States,” which the crowd booed, highlighting the contentious debate over what is and is not political at soccer games.
Up next, the Thorns host the Houston Dash on Sept. 21. The Dash are in seventh place.
The Courage have to turn around quickly and host the last-place Orlando Pride on Saturday.