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Washington Spirit, Portland Thorns trade set piece goals in 1-1 NWSL Challenge Cup draw

Plenty of chances, but no winner in a fun clash that saw Lindsey Horan and Sam Staab both score

2020 NWSL Challenge Cup - Day 5 Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns FC put on a show at the NWSL Challenge Cup, exchanging chances throughout the match before settling for a 1-1 draw. After a scoreless first half, the teams both notched set piece goals, with Lindsey Horan opening the scoring in the 69th minute before Sam Staab got the Spirit a point with a 77th minute header that came after an audacious flick from Ashley Sanchez.

Portland’s high pressure created some nervy early moments for Washington in the back, but the Spirit had the game’s first real look at goal, with Kumi Yokoyama fizzing a 21 yard effort wide after showing some skill to control the ball. Despite being without Rose Lavelle at the start, the Spirit were looking to use their passing at the back to open spaces before bursting through the midfield at speed.

Ashley Sanchez and Tyler Lussi exchanged chances soon thereafter as both teams looked to play an open game. However, as the half wore on, the Thorns started to take control, with one 27th minute sequence forcing Natalie Jacobs (in her first start) to clear a dangerous ball from the goalmouth before getting lucky that Christine Sinclair shot wide after Lindsey Horan put the ball back into the mixer.

Horan thought she might have a goal in the 37th minute, but was correctly judged to have fouled Jacobs going for the header (and would have been denied anyway by an acrobatic Paige Nielsen clearance) as the Thorns continued to control the latter stages of the half. Washing did offer up a sporadic threat, with another Yokoyama shot from the same spot forcing a good save from Bella Bixby after a long throw-in from Sam Staab.

Richie Burke turned to some big names at halftime, inserting Lavelle and Ashley Hatch. However, a missed Staab interception nearly became a quick Portland goal to start the half, with Morgan Weaver picking out Sinclair’s trailing run. The Canadian legend was just a bit too late to arrive, though, skying her shot from the penalty mark.

Lavelle’s influence was obvious, though, as she created dangerous looks for Sanchez and DiBiasi, though the Thorns did well defending on both occasions. Hatch was then robbed of a goal by goalkeeper Bella Bixby in the 63rd minute after Sanchez’s clever early ball sent her through. The Spirit nearly scored on the resulting corner, with Staab’s header deflecting wide at the last moment amid a crowded penalty area.

The Spirit would regret those near-misses in the 69th minute, as Portland went ahead on a set piece. After the Thorns couldn’t make anything from numerous first half looks, this time Meghan Klingenberg’s delivery was inch-perfect, and Horan broke free from the pack to power a diving header past Aubrey Bledsoe, off the crossbar, and in.

However, the Spirit had a response, equalizing with a set piece of their own. Dorian Bailey’s low near post delivery found Sanchez, who heel-flicked the ball to the back post. Staab rose up above the crowd, floating a header back across goal that was just out of reach for both Bixby and Klingenberg, leveling the scores in the 77th minute.

The game stayed open in the closing stages. Raquel Rodriguez found Horan, who was denied a brace by a splendid Bledsoe save in the 87th minute. The Spirit had multiple counter-attacking opportunities as well, with substitute Jenna Hellstrom whistling a shot wide after Lavelle sent her through from midfield as stoppage time began.

Despite the end-to-end finish, neither team could score, leaving both with just one point on the night. The Spirit will conclude the preliminary round by facing the Houston Dash next Sunday, July 12, which will wrap things up for them before the knockout round.

Box Score

NWSL Challenge Cup - Preliminary Round
Portland Thorns FC 1 (Horan 69)
Washington Spirit 1 (Staab 77)

Thorns (4312): Bella Bixby; Christen Westphal (Madison Pogarch 70), Emily Menges, Kelli Hubly, Meghan Klingenberg (Katherine Reynolds 80); Raquel Rodriguez, Angela Salem (Gabby Seiler 70), Lindsey Horan; Christine Sinclair (C) (Marissa Everett 60); Morgan Weaver (Simone Charley 70), Tyler Lussi

Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Natalie Jacobs (Tori Huster 79), Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Jordan DiBiasi (Dorian Bailey 70), Andi Sullivan (C), Bayley Feist (Rose Lavelle 46); Kumi Yokoyama (Jenna Hellstrom 73), Averie Collins (Ashley Hatch 46), Ashley Sanchez

Thorns - None
Spirit - None