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Thorns pick up critical win

The Portland Thorns rose to the challenge Wednesday night.

Portland had Sky Blue FC on its heels for much of the match and won 3-1 before an announced crowd of 13,769 at Jeld-Wen Field.

An own goal in the 17th minute put Portland down 1-0.

Thorns striker Alex Morgan scored the equalizer in the 36th minute, midfielder Mana Shim scored the winner in the 65th minute and midfielder Allie Long added an insurance goal in the 73rd minute.

Portland (10-5-4, 34 points) took sole control of second place in the National Women's Soccer Leage, while Sky Blue (9-5-4, 31 points) dropped to third.

The Thorns trail FC Kansas City (10-4-5, 35 points) — and can take the NWSL lead with a victory at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, when the teams meet at Jeld-Wen.

The top four regular-season finishers qualify for the playoffs, which begin later this month, and the highest-ranked teams get to play at home.

“A huge win,” Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said of Wednesday's victory. “Our goal is not only to host the first (playoff) game, it’s to host the final game as well.”

Sky Blue took the lead after a Morgan foul 30 yards from goal. Midfielder Katy Freels sent a high free kick into the box. Thorns defender Nikki

Marshall tried to head the ball away, but redirected it to the top left corner of the goal, out of the reach of goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.

Morgan tied the score after taking a long pass from Shim that left her with only goalie Jill Loyden to beat. Morgan faked left, got Loyden to bite and, with an empty goal, tapped the ball into the goal.

“Typically, Sky Blue plays a high line, so we tried to get behind them,” said Morgan, who leads her club with eight goals this season. “We were successful at times. Fortunately that time, I finished off the goal.”

The goal was the first by the Thorns against Sky Blue in three meetings.

In the 54th minute, LeBlanc came up with an enormous save on a breakaway by Monica Ocampo. The striker's shot from 12 yards smashed into LeBlanc's face and bounced harmlessly away.

A little later, Morgan created an opportunity, and Shim cleaned the table.

Morgan fired two shots, both saved by Loyden. But Shim collected a rebound at point-blank range and gave Portland a 2-1 edge.

“Alex was drawing everyone’s attention,” said Shim, who has scored four of her five NWSL goals in the last four matches. “I just happened to be right there. The universe is just being good to me right now.”

Long's goal, her second of the season, came from near the top of the penalty box, after a throw-in by Tobin Heath.

“I saw space in front of me and checked into the space," Long said. "My intention was to open my body and hit it far post. I wanted to hit it a bit lower, but it worked out perfectly.”

After that goal, the Thorns substituted Courtney Wetzel for Shim to provide more defense as Sky Blue tried to chase the match.

“We sat back and had good gamesmanship toward the end,” Shim said.

Portland finished with a 25-12 edge in shots, with 13 on goal to four by the visitors.

Now the biggest question is how the Thorns will deal with their third match in eight days. KC is coming off three games in nine days, but hasn't played since Sunday.

“We are going to be a little bit more fatigued than Kansas City because they didn’t have a midweek game,” Cone said. “But we don’t have a choice.”



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