Portland Thorns

Portland Thorns set new records in final (regular season) home game

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Portland Thorns

Portland Thorns set new records in final (regular season) home game

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The Portland Thorns finally delivered on what they have been wanting to achieve since the NWSL’s inaugural season in 2013. Even on that year, when the Thorns won the championship, it never happened. But, it is finally going to happen in 2016; the Thorns are going to host a playoff game at Providence Park.

After two straight, dominating performances by the Thorns, the Western New York Flash came into Portland on Sunday night and presented the toughest challenge to the Thorns since back-to-back Seattle Reign matches over a month ago. In front of a nationally televised, sold-out Providence Park crowd, the Thorns won a game that looked like it might be another easy three points but turned in a matter of minutes into a nail biter to the final whistle.

The Flash looked entirely game to try and spoil the night’s jovial mood from the outset, giving the Thorns fits early and often by getting some quality looks at the goal and dominating offensively. The Flash, sitting fourth in the standings and just two points ahead of the fifth place Reign, came out like their playoff lives depended on it. That, along with some defensive giveaways by the Thorns, had the home crowd on edge with Michelle Betos and the Portland defenders being the busiest Thorns during the first 25 minutes of the match.

The home team finally caught a break in the 27th minute when Nada Nadim earned a penalty kick when the Flash’s Jaelene Hinkle earned a yellow card for knocking Nadim down on a breakaway near the goal. Nadim capitalized on the opportunity, giving the Thorns the first lead of the night.

Christine Sinclair, who has been on a tear since coming back from the Olympics, scored in the 37th minute to give the Thorns a 2-0 advantage at halftime and things were looking especially rosy in Portland on a beautiful, clear evening.

For much of the second half, The Thorns defense remained air tight while Dagny Brynjarsdottir joined the scoring party for the Thorns in the 69th minute, giving Portland a 3-0 lead. However, things were about to get a lot more interesting soon after.

The Flash brought the crowd back to the edge of their seats when they scored two quick goals late. The ball finally got past Betos in the 77th minute when Jess McDonald knocked in a header to give Western New York some life. Then, just three minutes later, Lynn Williams found herself open on a breakaway, nicely finishing a perfectly placed kick that cut the lead to 3-2.

The Thorns, having found themselves in a competitive match again, had to sweat out the remaining ten minutes plus stoppage time. The Flash had one last chance in the final few seconds to draw even on a corner kick, but Betos snared the ball in mid-air to secure three points for the Thorns and home field advantage for the semifinals of the playoffs. For the fans in attendance who were loud, chanting and standing all night long, maybe no more so than those final few minutes, the Thorns gave back with a gift of victory.

Sunday night’s game also set new NWSL records for total and average home attendance in a season. The sell-out crowd boosted Portland’s total attendance to 169,449 for the season, breaking the old Thorns record of 160,341 in 2014. It boosted the average attendance to 16,945, beating the old record of 15,639, also set by the Thorns in 2015.

There is one more regular season game remaining for the Thorns, a road game against Sky Blue FC on September 25. There is also still the possibility for the Thorns to take over first place in the NWSL standings, if they can get some help from the Washington Spirit to miss out on a few points. But, Thorns fans can finally rejoice and begin to get ready for the match they have all been waiting for, a home playoff game at Providence Park. After four record breaking seasons, the players and the fans have earned it.

After the Olympics, Portland Thorns will have high expectations

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After the Olympics, Portland Thorns will have high expectations

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The Portland Thorns came into last Saturday night’s game against rival Seattle Reign losers of two straight. After 12 consecutive games without a loss, the Thorns unprecedented streak was not only over, but their grip on first place in the NWSL standings was in jeopardy as well. A season of high expectations was becoming precariously close to falling off an Olympic sized chasm.

In what may be seen as one of the biggest games of the year when all is said and done, the Thorns eked out a 1-0 victory in front of 19,000-plus at Providence Park. Behind a shrewd coaching move by Thorns coach Mark Parsons to go with a back line that was five deep, six saves from goalkeeper Michelle Betos, a standout performance from Nadia Nadim and one big save by Katherine Reynolds, the Thorns gained three points to remain at the top of the standings heading into a month long break.

The Thorns have survived their toughest stretch of the season relatively unscathed. When they return to action in late August, there will be no excuses, not that there ever has been with this team, for the Thorns to be heavy favorites to win it all. One thing is clear; with a team this talented and deep, an appearance in the NWSL Championship should be the primary goal.

Last season, the Portland Timbers made a remarkable run to the MSL Cup, winning the first major title in Portland since the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977 Portland Thorns in 2013. The Thorns have the opportunity to deliver another title to the Rose City. It should be the expectation of this town. It should be the expectation of the Thorns. The Timbers are looking less and less likely to repeat as MLS champs, so it may be up to the Thorns to keep this parade routine going into 2016.

Come late August and early September there will be a flurry of games to close out the season. Of the five remaining games left, only two are against a top five opponent with two more against the cellar dwellers of the NWSL. The Thorns, barring any Olympic injury (knock on wood), should be a complete team by then. Having proved earlier in the season that they are the best team in the league when everyone is assembled, the soccer version of The Avengers if ever there was one, the Thorns should march into the playoffs with their sights set on Houston.

Back in the fold will be Tobin Heath (already making her presence felt in the Olympics), Lindsey Horan, and Allie Long. Back will be Christine Sinclair (see Tobin Heath parenthesis), Amandine Henry, Meghan Klingenberg, and Emily Sonnet. They will fortify a squad that was admirably held down by Nadim, Betos, Reynolds and newcomers like Dagny Brynjarsdottir. The Thorns should have nothing short of title aspirations when September arrives.

If the Thorns should require any smaller goals to help achieve their ultimate end game, it should be this: The Thorns have yet to host a playoff game. How great would it be to give the fans something they have been waiting to see and experience since 2013? Over 19,000 fans showed up to a home game when most of the more well know names were absent. The vibe and energy in the stadium was nothing short of a typical, dynamic Thorns game. Can you imagine what a playoff game in Portland would be like? It might just give Timbers fans a moment of appreciation and adoration.

August will be a long month for the Thorns fans. The next game isn’t until August 27 and the next home game is not until September 4. That’s a long wait for fans of a team with visions of confetti and a trophy dancing in their heads. But, good things come to those who wait. So, enjoy the Olympics, Thorns fans. Feel the pride of watching a team bursting with Thorns players compete for our country (and Canada, and France). Take a deep breath and relish the break, because exciting things are on the horizon.

Thorns end losing streak with 1-0 win over Reign

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Thorns end losing streak with 1-0 win over Reign

The Portland Thorns, the best team in the NWSL, came into Saturday’s game looking to get back on track. After starting the season with a team record 12-game undefeated streak, Portland was in the midst of a two-game losing streak. The early streak had them high in the standings, but the recent losing efforts had them wanting more. 

They got it on Saturday.

With rival Seattle in town you knew you were in for a treat. However, the Thorns (and the Reign for that matter) were a shell of their normal selves. With seven players, all of which are everyday starters, out to represent their respective nations in the Olympics, the Thorns had to rely on depth to get them through.

For much of the match Seattle looked like the stronger team. Seattle’s offense was controlling possession, and controlling the game. On the other side, the Thorns defense was doing everything it needed to do to make sure the Reign wouldn’t do any damage.

Time after time Michelle Betos was able to stop Seattle in its tracks, and keep the Reign at bay. With so many familiar names out of the lineup, this familiar named stepped up and hit one out of the park.

Her counterpart in the other net, Haley Kopmeyer, was no slouch either. She continually stopped the Thorns, and her defenders up front helped slam the door on the Thorns most of the match. That is, until Nadia Nadim stepped up.

Nadim busted down that door in the late stages of the game with a goal that seemingly came out of nowhere. In minute 74, Mana Shim sent a high arching pass into the box that looked to be an easy clear for Seattle. However, Nadim, sandwiched between two Reign defenders, would out jump the defense and send a header past the Seattle goalkeeper. Kopmeyer never had a chance.  The goal was met with a thunderous roar from the Portland faithful.

Fans were looking at a 0-0 tie, instead an improbable header gave them a 1-0 win.

Final Score: Portland Thorns 1 – Seattle Reign 0

Standout Thorns: No one played a better, or a more consistent game than Michelle Betos. The Thorns’ Goalkeeper was in total control of the box, and made sure to stop anything the Reign sent her way. Some saves were easy, some saves took quite a bit of effort. Betos was ready for all of them. At the end of the day, it was simply a very strong game from a very strong keeper.

Next Up: The Thorns get a very nice break from the pitch while the Olympics are going on, and don’t return to game action until August 27th. Their next opponent: The Seattle Reign, this time up in their neck of the woods. Kickoff for that match is set for 2:00 PM at Memorial Stadium in Seattle. 

 

Portland Thorns FC fall to FC Kansas City, 2-1, lose 12-game undefeated streak

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Portland Thorns FC fall to FC Kansas City, 2-1, lose 12-game undefeated streak

Game Recap:  The Portland Thorns FC (7-1-5, 26 points) entered Saturday’s match against FC Kansas City (3-5-4, 13pts) on a four-game winning streak and as the only undefeated team left in the NWSL.

However, Kansas City, two-time defending NWSL champions, ended both of those streaks with a 2-1 victory over Portland.

Five U.S. Women's National Team players and Canadian Women's National Team captain Christine Sinclair, were missing from the Thorns’ roster on Saturday.

Kansas City held possession and control for the majority of the first half. Yet, the Thorns were able to keep Kansas City scoreless until the 23rd minute after seven shots on goal. Thorns goal keeper Michelle Betos came up with multiple major saves.

Including one tremendous diving stop in the 16th minute worthy of a NWSL save of the week look. Kansas City’s Erika Tymrak sent a shot to the top corner of the net and Betos stretched out to knock it away.

Another Kansas City goal came in the 54th minute. Shea Groom scored a header off of a Tiffany McCarty cross into the box, extending their lead to 2-0.

The Thorns found some life in the 76th minute with a big goal from Kat Williamson in her first game back from injury. Williamson tapped in the loose ball off a free kick, making it 2-1, Kansas City. 

Depsite a late Thorns’ rally that included six shots on goal in the final 10 minutes, Portland fell to Kansas City, 2-1.

Noteable:

  • Kat Williamson made her first appearance since injury
  • Kansas City took 14 shots on goal compared to Portland’s 16 shots on goal.

Up Next: The Portland Thorns travel to play the Houston Dash at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 16.

Thorns unbeaten streak remains intact with 2-1 win over Orlando

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Thorns unbeaten streak remains intact with 2-1 win over Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla. – Playing their second game in five days, Portland Thorns FC rallied in the final 10 minutes with a pair of goals from midfielders Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Lindsey Horan to remain unbeaten through their first 11 games this season, earning a 2-1 win against the Orlando Pride in front of 7,143 fans Sunday evening at Camping World Stadium.

Taking to the road for the seventh time – the most of any team in the league this season through their first 11 games – Thorns FC (6-0-5, 23pts) kept their unbeaten streak intact, making it the second-longest unbeaten streak in NWSL history. In addition, Portland is now unbeaten in seven consecutive road games (3-0-4), setting a new club record for the longest road-unbeaten streak in Thorns FC history.

Portland registered its third straight win and handed Orlando (5-6-0, 15pts) its first loss of the season at home, battling back to score the equalizer after forward Jasmyne Spencer sent a powerful strike from distance into the top left corner of the goal in the 67th minute. Just nine minutes after entering the match as a substitute, Brynjarsdottir tallied her third goal of the season in the 80th minute to tie the game at 1-1.

Building from the back, defender Emily Sonnett delivered a pinpoint long-range pass to the head of forward Christine Sinclair, who flicked the ball on for Brynjarsdottir running towards the edge of the box. Brynjarsdottir was able to beat the Orlando defender to the ball and calmly chipped it past Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris inside the right post.

With both teams pushing for the game-winning goal late in the match, Sinclair quickly switched the point of attack, finding forward Hayley Raso racing down the left side of the field. Raso dribbled into the box and cut back towards the middle, sending a short pass to the feet of Horan, who placed her shot perfectly into the right side of the net in the 90th minute for her team-leading fourth goal of the season to put Thorns FC in front 2-1.

Defensively, Portland remains the only team in the NWSL this season that has not conceded multiple goals in a match. Goalkeeper Michelle Betos made three critical saves, including a double save in the 28th minute as she made a kick save on a point-blank range attempt from midfielder Dani Weatherholt and sprung back to her feet to make a diving stop on Spencer’s shot off the rebound.

Thorns FC return to the Rose City for back-to-back home matches, starting with a game against Sky Blue FC on Saturday, July 2, at Providence Park. Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. (Pacific) with a live web stream at www.thornsfc.com.   

Notes:

  • Portland’s 11-game unbeaten streak is the second-longest unbeaten streak in league history, while the club also set a new record for the longest-road unbeaten streak in Thorns FC history (7 games).
  • Two of Lindsey Horan’s four goals this season have come against Orlando – both were game-winners that came after the 80th minute.
  • Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Horan scored in both regular-season matches against Orlando this season.
  • Portland has scored six goals in the final 15 minutes of matches this season.
  • Horan’s 90th-minute goal was the latest regular-season game-winner in Thorns FC history.
  • Midfielder Hayley Raso recorded her first career NWSL assist and point in the match.
  • Thorns FC have outscored their opponents 8-4 on the road this season.
  • Portland improved to 5-0-0 all-time against expansions sides in their inaugural seasons. Posting a record of 2-0-0 against Orlando this season and a mark of 3-0-0 against the Houston Dash in their first season (2014).
  • Defender Katherine Reynolds made her 70th career NWSL appearance in the match.
  • Defender Emily Menges earned her 50th career start in the match, becoming only the third player in club history to reach this milestone along with Christine Sinclair and Allie Long.
  • Forward Christine Sinclair has tallied a point in four consecutive matches (June 12-June 26)

Portland Thorns FC (6-0-5, 23pts) at Orlando Pride (5-6-0, 15pts) 
June 26, 2016 – Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)

Goals by Half                            1         2          F
Portland Thorns FC                   0         2          2
Orlando Pride                            0         1          1

Scoring Summary
ORL: Spencer, 67
POR: Brynjarsdottir (Sinclair), 80
POR: Horan (Raso), 90

Misconduct Summary
ORL: Alleway (Caution), 43
POR: Raso (Caution), 90+2

Lineups & Stats
POR: GK Betos, D Reynolds, D Sonnett, D Menges, D Klingenberg, M Henry (Weber, 90+2), M Horan, M Long, M Heath (Raso, 62), F Nadim (Brynjarsdottir, 71), F Sinclair ©

Substitutes Not Used: GK Franch, M Boureille

TOTAL SHOTS: 7 (Heath, 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Heath, 2); FOULS: 8 (Heath, Henry, 2); OFFSIDES: 6; CORNER KICKS: 1; SAVES: 3

ORL: GK Harris, D Bélanger, D Monica, D Alleway, D Catley, M Weatherholt (Witteman, 89), M Kyle (Edwards, 87), M Edmonds, F Spencer, F Morgan ©, F Burkenroad (Fields, 58)

Substitutes Not Used: GK Dorsey, D Pressley, M Evans, F Hagen

TOTAL SHOTS: 9 (Morgan, Spencer, 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Spencer, 2); FOULS: 9 (Kyle, Spencer, 2); OFFSIDES: 1; CORNER KICKS: 7; SAVES: 3

Referee: Ekaterina Koroleva
Assistant Referees: Nick Uranga, Hayden Oscanoa
4th Official: Janessa Gunn
Attendance: 7,143
Weather: Partly cloudy, 93 degrees

All statistics contained in this box score are unofficial.

Thorns remain undefeated with 2-0 win over Red Stars

Thorns remain undefeated with 2-0 win over Red Stars

There were no magic second half equalizers this time around for the Red Stars. In fact, there were no goals at all. Portland held the Red Stars scoreless in a dominating performance to extend their club record undefeated steak to 10 matches.

The Thorns wasted little time getting on the board in this one. Six minutes into the match Christine Sinclair intercepted a Chicago dribble just feet from the goal, and in one smooth motion sent the ball to the back of the net. It was the third straight match the Canadian National Team star has scored a goal, and the second straight game in which her goal ended up being the eventual game winner.

With the early lead all the Thorns needed to do was finish with smart defense, and they did just that. Much like the last time these two met, the Thorns held the Red Stars at bay. For much of the game Chicago struggled to get in a real flow. When they did have a chance to walk through the door, the Portland backline and goalkeeper Michelle Betos would slam the door shut.

To their credit, the Chicago defense was strong as well. Both defenses force turnovers, and for much of the game it was a back and forth of possession changes.

When Portland eventually founds another chance to score, they took full advantage, Portland picked up a nice little cushion in the 25th minute, scoring goal No.2 two off a beautiful set piece. Tobin Heath sent the corner kick into the box where Amandine Henry was waiting for the header. Henry’s header ended up bouncing off Nadia Nadim’s head and into the net. Nadim was credited with the goal, Henry with the assist.

Speaking of Amandine Henry, the newest Thorn had quite the debut. She looked comfortable on the pitch, was not afraid to push the ball, and had a few key defensive stops to help Portland pick up the clean sheet. It was exactly what the Thorns needed to pick up the win.

Final Score: The Thorns remain undefeated and move into first place in the NWSL with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars:

Standout Thorns: To no one’s surprise Christine Sinclair had another standout game. Sinclair has been in rare form as of late, and it was no different tonight. She scored the games opening goal, marking her third straight match in which she has sent the ball home. It was also the second straight game in which she scored the first goal for the Thorns, both eventual game winners. She almost had a brace as well, but her second shot just skimmed the cross bar. Brace or not, it was another wonderful game for the Portland striker.

Next Up: The Thorns don’t have much time to rest before traveling to Florida to take on the Orlando Pride. Kickoff is set for 2:00pm on Sunday, June 26.  

Thorns look to remain undefeated, host NWSL leading Red Stars

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Thorns look to remain undefeated, host NWSL leading Red Stars

The only remaining undefeated team in the NWSL takes on the No.1 team in the league on Wednesday, as the Portland Thorns (4-0-5, 17pts) play host to the Chicago Red Stars (5-1-3, 18pts).

Both teams are coming off of impressive shutout wins last week, with the Portland scoring a 2-0 win over the Western New York Flash and Chicago grabbing a 3-0 win over the Boston Breakers.

For Portland a win would give them a 2-point lead over the Red Stars, and vault them into first place in the NWSL. But if recent memory serves true, grabbing a win vs Chicago will be no easy task.

Just over a week ago Portland and Chicago battled to a 1-1- draw on the Red Stars’ home turf. A goal from Christine Sinclair gave the Thorns the 1-0 lead in the 25th minute, but the Red Stars were able to grab an equalizer midway through the 2nd half.

For much of the game the Thorns defense was impenetrable. They kept Chicago’s offense from ever really making a push, and limited the Red Stars to just one shot on goal. Unfortunately, that one SOG was the equalizer in the 1-1 draw.

Despite the draw, Portland’s defense was a strong point in that matchup against the Red Stars, much as it has been all season. Portland has already logged four clean sheets (goalkeeper Adrianna Franch has three of those in only six appearances), and is the only team in the NWSL yet to concede multiple goals in a match this season.

As good as the defense has been, it was missing a key piece in the draw to Chicago: Defensive midfielder Amandine Henry. Henry, who signed with the Thorns earlier this season, was not yet available the last time these two teams played, as she just still finishing up her season with French side Lyon. Henry, widely regarded as one of the best female soccer players in the world, made her Thorns debut in Portland’s last match, and could make her first NWSL start vs. the Red Stars on Wednesday. 

Could Henry be the difference this time around? Could she be to key to keeping Chicago off the board and helping Portland grab its fifth clean sheet? We will see on Wednesday night.

Thorns to Watch:

Amandine Henry.  As stated before, Henry is one of the best footballers in the world and will have Providence Park buzzing when she makes her home debut.  She was the winner of the Silver Ball in last year’s Women’s World Cup, and was a finalist for 2015’s UEFA Best Women’s Player in Europe Award.  She may be just 26-years-old, but she has a long history of success and winning. She wasn’t available the last time Portland faced Chicago, and she could be a big difference maker this time around.

Christine Sinclair: The Canadian striker has been riding a hot streak, scoring goals in two-straight matches, including the game winners against WNY. Coming off the recent announcement that Sinclair will play for Canada for the Rio 2016 Olympics, it would be no surprise if she caps off a big week with another goal.

Red Stars to Watch:

Christen Press: Press leads the NWSL with four goals, including the Red Stars only goal in the 1-1 draw against the Thorns on June 12. Press has been in top form this season, and could be looking to go out with a bang before she leaves Chicago for USA Women’s National Team duties and a July 9 friendly vs South Africa.

Match Info: Kickoff is set for 7:00 PM at Providence Park. Note - Providence Park has made changes to fan entrance procedures, and the Thorns/Timbers are recommending fans show up earlier than usually to accommodate.  

 

Thorns FC's Christine Sinclair named to Canada Women's National Team roster for Rio 2016 Olympics

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Thorns FC's Christine Sinclair named to Canada Women's National Team roster for Rio 2016 Olympics

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Thorns FC forward Christine Sinclair was named to the Canada Women’s National Team roster for the Rio 2016 Olympics, it was announced today. This marks the third time Sinclair has been selected to represent Canada at the Olympics.

Sinclair, 33, made her first appearance at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, appearing in four games and scoring two goals. At the London 2012 Olympics, Sinclair led Canada to the bronze medal, tallying six goals in six games, including a hat-trick in the semifinals against the United States. The Canada Women’s National Team captain currently ranks second all-time in career international goals (162), having made 243 appearances with the national team.

Now in her fourth season with Thorns FC, Sinclair has appeared in five matches (4 starts) this season, scoring two goals. In four seasons with the club, Sinclair has played in 57 matches, logging 4,816 minutes and has tallied 19 goals and six assists.

Canada opens group play on Aug. 3 against Australia and plays its other two group matches against Zimbabwe on Aug. 6 and Germany on Aug. 9. The quarterfinals are set to take place on Aug. 12 and the semifinals on Aug. 16. The tournament concludes with the gold and bronze medal matches on Aug. 19.

Return of Michelle Betos to make Thorns even better

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Return of Michelle Betos to make Thorns even better

Posted by John Stupak 

On Sunday against the Seattle Reign, the Portland Thorns were without a plethora of players due to international commitments. Going up against an archrival wasn’t great timing for a slew of quality players to be missing, but the Thorns did get back one key component to their roster: Michelle Betos. Wait, that’s 2015 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year Michelle Betos to you.

Betos’ return from a right shoulder nerve injury came at just the right time and will only make the Thorns that much better for the rest of the season, assuming her shoulder holds up the rest of the year. And, if the Thorns offense can’t always find a way to produce goals, as it failed to do in a 0-0 draw against the Reign, they can always call upon Betos to step up in that department as well.

Betos was greeted with the loudest cheers from the 18,000-plus in attendance when her name was announced during the starting lineups and she instantly reminded fans of why she won the coveted goalkeeper award. On her first game back since week two, she was everywhere around the box, making a host of saves while playing through some obvious discomfort at times in her right shoulder, her two prolonged pauses during the game as she tended to her shoulder was enough to give fans a reason to squirm in their seats. She played thought it, however, and was a big reason why the Thorns were still able to gain a point despite the offense being nearly non-existent without the likes of assist leader Tobin Heath and leading goal scorer Lindsey Horan. Betos showcased everything that has made her successful in every level of the game she has been a part of while flying completely under the radar for most of her career.

The road has not been a short one for Betos, however, to finally land where she is today. Born in Queens, New York, she attended the University of Georgia (2006-2009) where she ranks third all-time in saves and second all-time in shutouts and wins. Not being a NWSL before 2013, she traveled frequently through the years since 2009. From playing in her home state of New York for a semi-professional team, to Cyprus for a Champions League squad, to Seattle when the NWSL formed and finally to Portland (and Sydney, Australia); Betos has traveled a great many miles, literally and figuratively, to get where she is today.

Before 2015, Betos was just good enough to be a backup to some of the best goalkeepers in the game, playing behind Hope Solo when she was with the Seattle Reign and then former Thorns keeper Nadine Angerer. Last year, the first season after Angerer retired, she proved she was good enough to deserve her own backup, earning her keep as a starter while setting career highs in minutes, wins, saves, shutouts, and SportsCenter top ten plays. Hopefully, she has found a home of sorts here in the Rose City. She has put her stamp on this organization after just one, albeit really good, year.

The Thorns will need Betos to be in top form for their next game against the Chicago Red Stars, the top team in the league, on the road. Portland also needs to show they can win consistently away from home. While a 1-0-3 start away from Providence Park is a measurable improvement from last year, they still need to be better in order to be seen as an elite team in the NWSL. They can take a huge step in gunning for that top spot in the standings with a win or draw against the Red Stars on June 12. With Betos back protecting the goal and with Heath, Horan, and the rest of the team scheduled to be back as well (hopefully), we should finally see this Thorns team at full strength.

Parsons has Portland Thorns primed for best-season ever

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Parsons has Portland Thorns primed for best-season ever

Written by Abe Asher

Coming into their home tilt with the rival Seattle Reign this weekend, the Portland Thorns had been decimated.

Injuries and national team call-ups robbed first-year head coach Mark Parsons of no fewer than six of his eleven first choice starters – and one of the starters who was still around, captain Christine Sinclair, was slated to play just 25 minutes.

Under the difficult circumstances, the Thorns would have been thrilled with a draw. So defender Emily Menges could be forgiven for referring to her team’s hard-fought 0-0 stalemate against the Reign on Sunday afternoon at Providence Park as a “win.”

A win is what it felt like and how it was celebrated. As his team circled the field thanking the more than 18,000 fans in attendance at full-time, a fist-pumping Parsons was congratulated heartily by team owner Merritt Paulson.

The draw kept the Thorns undefeated on the 2016 season, with three wins and four draws – and it built confidence that, when its ever-growing contingent of national team players are at the Rio Olympics this summer, the team can continue to get results in a way that last year’s team, when missing players for the Women’s World Cup, couldn’t.

Already, this Thorns season feels different than the club’s three previous campaigns.

Portland is the NWSL’s biggest club, and it’s always the league’s most talented roster, but the Thorns have rarely lived up to expectations.

Too often in the last two years under Paul Riley, it felt like things happened to the Thorns. Not so thus far in 2016, and certainly not so against Seattle on Sunday. The vibe around this team is completely different – positive, proactive, and tough.

Much of the credit for that transformation has to go to Parsons, who, in his first season with the Thorns, has impressed in a big way.

Portland has only conceded four goals this year, the lowest number of goals allowed in the league – and when they’ve had their full compliment of players, the results have been impressive. Look no further than last weekend’s home drubbing of Parsons’ old club the Washington Spirit.

This coach is, interestingly enough, reminiscent of Caleb Porter when he first landed with the Timbers. Like Porter was, Parsons is young, confident, and hugely impressive next to his predecessors.

The first big move of the Parsons era was trading Alex Morgan, whose play for the Thorns and locker-room presence was never overly impressive. And while Morgan requested that trade to be closer to her husband in Orlando, it was an important first step in bringing what has often been a fractured team together.

Cohesion was something that Riley often struggled to create in his two disappointing years with the Thorns – and even when the team won the championship in its inaugural season of 2013, there was a feeling that the club never quite hit the heights it was capable of.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then-manager Cindy Parlow Cone departed at the end of that season.

But this feels different. This Thorns team doesn’t just have good players; it’s balanced and durable.

In the last three years, Portland doesn’t grit out a point against Seattle. That’s why Sunday’s result mattered. It’s another sign that this Thorns season could be the club’s best.