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Leroux double gives Boston three points in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Boston Breakers picked up a potentially valuable three points thanks to two goals from Sydney Leroux, the NWSL’s leading scorer, who guided her team to a 2-0 victory over the second-place Portland Thorns on Saturday night in front of 12,436 at JELD-WEN Field.

Goals in the 11th and 39th minutes, both assisted by Heather O’Reilly, pushed Leroux’s season goal total to 10, two ahead of FC Kansas City’s Lauren Cheney on top of the league’s goal-scoring charts. The brace also moved Boston within three points of Western New York for the fourth and final playoff spot, with the Flash set to make up their game in hand tomorrow at a Cheney-less FC Kansas City.

“HAO (Heather O’Reilly) and [Sydney Leroux] were just very good,” Boston head coach Lisa Cole said after the match, discussing the efforts that got her team three points in Portland. “Lianne Sanderson had another excellent performance. The defense was solid. Overall, just a really good team performances.”

Portland remains in second but are now winless in three, having been held scoreless since Mana Shim’s 67th minute goal on June 16 against visiting Reign FC — a 293-minute skid.

After a start that saw the Breakers come out the slightly more energetic side, with Portland’s defense noticeably disorganized, Leroux broke through in the 11th minute, her finish of an O’Reilly pass not only opening the night’s scoring but breaking her tie with Cheney atop the league’s goal-scoring charts.

The Boston striker doubled her team’s lead in the 39th minute, with a ball rolled through the defense from her own half by O’Reilly springing Leroux on a breakaway, one that culminated with a 16-yard shot from the right of the penalty area into the side netting of Karina LeBlanc’s far corner.

“Heather has been playing me the most amazing through balls,” Leroux said of her performance. “The least I can do for her is get a couple of goals.”

It was the last damage of a half that was dominated by the Breakers, the visitors accumulating a 6-1 edge in shots on goal during the first 45 minutes, complementing their 9-6 advantage in total shots.

The second half saw Portland gain a momentary boost from Christine Sinclair, whose move from attacking midfield to forward gave the team a creative presence higher up the field. But Boston proved effective offsetting that threat on the counter, a number of O’Reilly charges down the Breakers’ left rocking the Thorns onto their heels.

The Breakers, in fact, generated the first big chance of the second half when a 70th minute chip into the penalty area for Joanna Lohman forced LeBlanc off her line, the Thorns’ keeper driving at Lohman’s feet to prevent Boston’s third goal.

Portland’s best chance for a breakthrough came in the 83rd minute when Alex Morgan had a chance from the right of goal after a failed Breakers clearance. Her shot high toward goal was tipped out for a corner, and when Morgan was put through to the left of Kia McNeill in the 86th minute, a strong Alyssa Naeher kept Portland off the scoresheet.

“I thought today was one of [Naeher’s] overall best performances I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Alyssa since she was about 13 — maybe even younger than that,” Cole said of her goalkeeper, who played the game with a face mask to protect a recovering broken nose. “I thought she was outstanding today, not only making saves, but coming for through balls and then being good on her distribution.”

Naeher’s performance came at a position where Cole had sought improvement, asking more of each of her top two goalkeepers:

“Both Ashley (Phillips) and Alyssa have been good for us, and then they’ve had one or two little mistakes that they’ve give up soft goals,” Cole explained. “What I’ve said to them is ‘you’ve both overall been good for us,’ but we need one of them to be great … Not everyday, but sometimes we need an outstanding performance, and I thought Alyssa gave that to us today.”

The win moves Boston to 5-5-4 (19pts.) on the year, giving them four points in two games during their Pacific Northwest road trip.

“I think a lot of people wrote us off for the season after a bunch of our losses,” Leroux said, asked about the impact of the team’s successful road trip. “We just need to come together and play 90-minute games. That’s what we’ve been struggling with … playing 90 minutes is very crucial for us.”

With the loss, Portland drops to 8-4-2 (26 pts), leaving them four points behind first place Sky Blue FC, who defeated the Washington Spirit 1-0 earlier on Saturday.

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