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Spirit quickly rally from early deficit to beat Thorns

Crystal Dunn leads the NWSL with six goals this season. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Crystal Dunn leads the NWSL with six goals this season. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

BOYDS, Md. — Crystal Dunn once again proved to be the difference as the Washington Spirit defeated the visiting Portland Thorns, 2-1 Saturday. Dunn forced a turnover in front of net and notched her league-leading sixth goal of the season to give the Spirit a 3-0 record at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

Portland opened scoring in the 18th minute, when Ayo Anonma got in behind the Spirit defense and slid the ball in behind Kelsey Wys. Allie Long was credited with the assist. It was the Equatorial Guinean’s first NWSL goal.

Portland, who hadn’t scored in the previous two games, didn’t hold the lead for long. In the 26th minute, a ball deflected off Thorns defender Kat Williamson and fell to Spirit’s Amanda DaCosta. Portland was caught off guard while looking for an offside call, and DaCosta was able to chip Michelle Betos.

Dunn, who has tallied a point in every game she’s started so far, gave her side the lead two minutes later. She stole the ball from Betos and took an off-balance shot that found its way into the back of the net. The tally held up as the game-winner, Dunn’s third such goal of the season.

The second half was a physical battle and rhythm of the game was often disrupted as a result. A total of five yellow cards were issued in the half, four to the visitors. Two of yellow cards issued to Portland came off fouls suffered by Laura del Rio, who looked sharp in her return to the starting lineup following a stint out with injury and then as a substitute.

Postgame, Thorns head coach Paul Riley felt his side didn’t battle the way they needed.

“They just just out worked us simple as that. Didn’t have the fight in the midfield tonight. Sometimes you gotta fight instead of just play,” he said. “We lacked that fight tonight. We just didn’t show up. No pride in the uniform tonight at all. Very disappointed with the performance.”

Conversely, Spirit midfielder Christine Nairn, who wore the armband in Tori Huster absence due to injury, felt her team fought hard for the win, especially in the second half after Portland made some adjustments and started seeing more of the ball.

“I think that just shows how strong this team is mentally, physically, emotionally when we’re not going to have the best game, we’re going to put our bodies on the line and we’re going to battle and scrape out a win.”, Nairn said. “At times I thought we were the better team and at times they were the better team. So it’s all about who wants it more, and I think today it was us.”

Tiffany Weimer made her first appearance for the Spirit on Saturday. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Tiffany Weimer made her first appearance for the Spirit on Saturday. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

The highlight of the second half may have been Tiffany Weimer’s first appearance for the Spirit which came in stoppage time. The Penn State product was sidelined all of last season after suffering an ACL injury.

“It’s been a long year and a lot these guys and a lot of people that aren’t here tonight have been behind me the whole way,” Weimer said about making her Spirit debut. “So to be able to come out and even get a couple of minutes, just to hear my name announced to hear them (pointing to the stands). They’re amazing, cheering my name, and to step on the field was quite a rush.”

Spirit head coach Mark Parsons talked about the third victory at home for the Spirit both from a short-term and a long-term perspective. He admitted that there’s still a long way to go in the season. Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, Parsons sees how far the Spirit have comes since a last-place finish in 2013.

“The bigger picture the end of 2013 one team was NWSL champs, the other was rock bottom without much going for them,” he said, referring to Portland’s title in the inaugural NWSL season. “In eighteen months to go from that and put this number on a club like Portland, they’re a huge club. They’re a great team… Bigger picture, this is just a huge thing for the club. Right now, next week Boston, 3 points are needed,” Parsons remarked adding, “It’s gonna be a heck of a tough game.”

In 2013, the Spirit didn’t get a home win until a weather-shortened night against Chicago in July. Two years later, it seems almost inconceivable that the Spirit are carrying a perfect streak at home heading into the third month of the season.

Portland, who has managed just 2 points in the last five games, will try to right the ship before the World Cup break. The Thorns face Houston away next weekend. The Thorns know they still have time to bounce back from this tough stretch.

Thorns midfielder Mana Shim admitted while it’s never good to lose, it is better do it early in the season when you still have time to turn things around.

“We really still have our future in our hands; we can determine our season ends up because there is enough games left,” she said. “So that’s really crucial for us to go back and fix some things and turn things around.”

Three points in Houston would go along way towards that goal and would give the Thorns a boost mentally heading into the two-week World Cup break. That game kicks off at 8:30 p.m. ET next Saturday. The Spirit will try to remain perfect at home against Boston next Saturday.

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