Portland picks up three massive points at home over North Carolina
Adrianna Franch keeps her seventh clean sheet of the season in 1-0 win
Meghan Klingenberg, Hayley Raso, Allie Long celebrate Raso's game-winning goal in the 70th minute. (Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer for isiphotos.com)
Meghan Klingenberg, Hayley Raso, Allie Long celebrate Raso's game-winning goal in the 70th minute. (Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer for isiphotos.com)

Forward Hayley Raso scored her second goal of the season for Portland, and helped the Thorns pick up three points at home over the first-place North Carolina Courage in a 1-0 win. The Thorns are now 13-2-2 at home in Providence Park over the past two seasons, and kicked off a three-game home stand with a big win.

“We’ve come off a few tough losses, and we really went for it today,” Raso said after the match. “Credit to the girls, we had a great game.”

Head coach Mark Parsons changed his system a bit to compensate for North Carolina’s style of play, with his defense arranged into a three-back of Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett and Celeste Boureille. Meghan Klingenberg pushed higher into the midfield.

“We had a bit of a different system today,” Raso noted after the win. “We really went for it. We pressed high, we pushed forward and we tried to put a lot of pressure on their back line. We did that, and that’s how we create goals.”

As much as the Courage are known for their offensive domination via corner kicks, on Saturday afternoon in Providence Park, the set pieces were practically all for the Thorns. Portland finished the match with nine corners to North Carolina’s four, and also held a big overall advantage in passing accuracy, with 64.8% of their passes finding the mark. Midfielder Allie Long led the Thorns with 92.5% passing accuracy overall, as well as 87.5% in the Courage’s half. As for the Courage, the team only found the mark 56.4% on their passing.

The first half was a midfield battle between the two sides, with the best chance coming from the Courage in the 44th minute. Defender Taylor Smith charged up the wing past Meghan Klingenberg, and her cross found the head of Courage forward Ashley Hatch. Hatch, unable to keep her hot scoring streak going, sent it high.

Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch recorded her seventh clean sheet of the season in 14 starts. In 2016, no goalkeeper had more than six clean sheets for the entirety of the regular season. Franch was credited with two saves, but also had to clean up plenty of dangerous chances, including this cross from Makenzy Doniak in the 34th minute.

After the match, Franch said, laughing, “It’s crucial to get a clean sheet at home. You see those fans over there? They’ll let you know when they’re not happy. But it’s always crucial, especially coming off our tie game, keeping this momentum, and then hopefully into the next.”

Portland did have to survive the final ten minutes of the match, along with four minutes of stoppage time first. North Carolina substitute Jessica McDonald, along with forward Lynn Williams and midfielder McCall Zerboni all worked on coming up with the late equalizer.

The biggest scare for the Thorns came in the 90th minute from Taylor Smith. After a long throw from McDonald, Portland’s clearance bounced right back to her. She put it back into the mix centrally, and it ended up at Smith’s feet. She collected the ball and put a right footer on goal that struck the crossbar.

The loss for the Courage gives the Chicago Red Stars a chance to catch up in the standings, and possibly tie the Courage’s 27 points so far this season later on Saturday. The Courage move to 9-5-0 on the season, and will face FC Kansas City next weekend.

The Thorns have now put together a draw on the road in Houston and the win at home on Saturday in their midseason push for playoff positioning. They’ll keep home field advantage next weekend, as they host the Washington Spirit on Saturday, July 22 at 10 p.m. ET.

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