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OCT 27
3:30 PM ET
ESPN
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Thorns win regular season finale over Red Stars, 3-1
Portland becomes first team to win 10 home games in a single season
The Thorns celebrate a goal by Ashleigh Sykes  during the regular season finale against the Chicago Red Stars. (Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer for isiphotos.com)
The Thorns celebrate a goal by Ashleigh Sykes during the regular season finale against the Chicago Red Stars. (Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer for isiphotos.com)

By Katelyn Best

Portland, Oregon — The Portland Thorns defeated the Chicago Red Stars 3-1 in front of a sellout home crowd of 21,144 at Providence Park Saturday afternoon in a meeting between two playoff teams.

The loss for the Red Stars — combined with the Orlando Pride’s win later in the evening — means the Red Stars will finish the season in fourth place and play the Courage in the semifinals. If Chicago had earned a point in Portland, they would’ve faced the Thorns (who will now face the Pride in the semifinals).

The Red Stars came into the weekend having clinched a playoff berth with their win over Houston last week. Portland, meanwhile, sitting in second place, had already clinched a home semifinal match. North Carolina won the NWSL Shield on Wednesday night, so the Thorns could not move higher than second in the table.

After playing their last two games on the road, Chicago opted to rest much of their starting lineup, in anticipation of their semifinal match next weekend. The result was a largely lopsided matchup between the second and third-place teams in the table.

“It was a strong performance from the group,” said Thorns head coach Mark Parsons after the game. “The group is fit, the group is fresh, the group is healthy. We didn’t want to go into the biggest game of the season not knowing what the field feels like,” he said, when asked about starting his typical lineup in a game whose result would have no impact on the team’s playoff fate.

The Thorns started the scoring off early, when Hayley Raso capitalized on a mistake by Red Stars goalkeeper Michele Dalton in the second minute. Dalton made a poorly-timed pass to Samantha Johnson as Raso was charging in towards goal, and the Australian blocked the pass, stepped to Dalton, and slotted it into the empty net with a left-footed strike.

Raso also played a key role in the Thorns’ next goal, in the 13th minute, playing a short through pass to Christine Sinclair, who hit a cross into the center of the penalty area. Sarah Gorden got her head on the cross, but the ball fell to Ashleigh Sykes, who took a touch to control the high ball, then flicked it past Dalton into the net for her first goal in a Thorns jersey.

In the 21st minute, Danielle Colaprico came in for Johnson after the defender had a head-to-head collision with Raso as both went up for a header.

Chicago’s Arin Gilliland received a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul from behind on Raso. The second warning of the match, in the 33rd minute, went to Lauren Kaskie, who took Raso down in the center circle as the 23-year-old made a solo charge through the midfield on a transition play. Portland’s Amandine Henry received a warning in the 42nd minute for a foul against Stephanie McCaffrey.

After two minutes of extra time, the teams went into halftime with the score at 2-0.

At halftime, the Thorns used all three substitutions, bringing on Allie Long, Tobin Heath and Dagny Brynjarsdottir for Henry, Raso and Meghan Klingenberg, respectively. It was Heath’s home debut for 2017, after a back injury had sidelined the midfielder for the majority of the season.

“It felt so good,” said Heath of her first minutes at Providence Park. “Obviously, being able to play in a game like this doesn’t matter that much, but just being able to feel the fans again, and be at home and play with the girls, was an awesome feeling.”

In the 59th minute, Chicago head coach Rory Dames brought in Sofia Huerta for Summer Green. It was a change that would pay off, as Huerta got one back for the Red Stars in the 71st minute.

“It started off with Vanessa [DiBernardo] getting a shot off,” said Huerta after the match. DiBernardo’s shot hit the crossbar, and Portland defender Katherine Reynolds passed to Lindsey Horan. When Horan was slow to clear the ball, Huerta scooped it up, turned, and nailed an excellent long-range strike past Adrianna Franch. “The ball came to me, and I just shot it. You have that shot so many times, and it only goes in once,” said Huerta.

Chicago made another change in the 73rd minute, bringing on Christen Press for DiBernardo. Press is the Red Stars’ top scorer in 2017, with 11 goals, but was unable to make the difference on the day. “As a player, I want to come out here and win,” Press said after the match. “I’m disappointed, and I’m angry, but I think Rory hopes that that’s going to fuel us.”

Referee Elvis Osmanovic whistled for a Portland penalty in the 82nd minute, after Huerta fouled Long—who was playing her 100th match as a Thorn—in the box. Nadia Nadim stepped up to the spot and coolly slotted it past Dalton to put Portland up 3-1.

The win was Portland’s tenth at Providence in 2017, making them the first NWSL club to reach ten home wins in a season.

The Thorns will now host the Pride in a home semifinal on October 7 and the Red Stars will visit the Courage in the second semifinal on October 8.

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