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Holiday, Kansas City clinch in huge win over Thorns

Lauren Holiday scored twice against Portland Thorns FC for a league-leading 12 goals this NWSL inaugural season. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

FC Kansas City clinched a spot in the NWSL playoffs on Sunday, defeating Portland Thorns FC 3-2 in front of an NWSL record crowd of 17,619 fans.

Lauren Holiday scored twice for a league-leading 12 goals and Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc couldn’t handle a late Kristie Mewis shot as FC Kansas City (11-4-5, 38 pts.) created a four-point cushion over Portland and Sky Blue FC atop the NWSL table with two weeks to play, putting the Blues in prime position to clinch home field advantage.

Alex Morgan created further drama in the matchup between the NWSL’s top two teams by scoring an 89th minute goal to cut the visitors’ lead to one goal, but the Thorns couldn’t replicate recent late-game heroics to salvage a point.

Holiday opened the scoring in the 26th minute with her league-leading 11th goal of the season. After a driving run from Erika Tymrak, Portland’s defense dropped off giving Tymrak time to find a wide open Merritt Mathias on the right wing. Mathias’ low cross found a wide-open Holiday, who calmly curled a right-footed shot over LeBlanc’s head.

Her second goal came at a crucial juncture. Holiday and Tymrak combined beautifully as the rookie flicked on a give-and-go with the MVP candidate. Holiday slipped in behind Thorns defender Rachel Buehler and LeBlanc couldn’t get enough on the shot to push it wide.

That came just four minutes after Danielle Foxhoven had equalized for Portland after tapping in a mis-hit by Buehler.

Mewis’ 74th minute goal proved to be the game-winner. The left-footed shot looked manageable for LeBlanc, but the Canadian goalkeeper pushed the ball sideways and it hit off the inside of the post and went into the net.

Portland (10-5-4, 34 pts.) nearly went ahead in the 8th minute when Morgan’s left-footed shot went off the post. It was the culmination of an encouraging opening few minutes for the Thorns, who had a half chance through Danielle Foxhoven in the opening 30 seconds.

Nicole Barnhart kept the Thorns off the board with a huge, point-blank save on Christine Sinclair in the 36th minute palming away the Portland captain’s effort from 12 yards out. She came up big again on a Morgan shot from just two yards out and again in the 68th minute when she tipped Tobin Heath’s shot just over the bar. Barnhart had five saves total.

Watch FC Kansas City’s Lauren Holiday and Erika Tymrak react to the win in Portland:

Watch Thorns FC’s Danielle Foxhoven, Rachel Buehler, and Head Coach Cindy Parlow-Cone react to the loss:

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