As the Portland Thorns take the pitch against Houston Dash on Wednesday in the semifinal round, they’ll have to do it without Bella Bixby.
Bixby had an impressive NWSL Challenge Cup debut and kept the team afloat with three draws in four games, but sat out of Friday’s upset victory over two-time defending champion North Carolina Courage due to injury.
In a “bittersweet,” message on Twitter, Bixby, who entered the 2020 NWSL season as third-string goalkeeper, reveals she is heading back to Portland after suffering a torn ACL in practice. She does say however, it wasn’t a complete tear, which is positive news for the former Oregon State standout.
Goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom sprang into action due to Bixby’s absence. Eckerstrom shut out the Courage on Friday with a total of eight saves, including two saves off of her line in the 86th minute to keep Portland's lead intact. It was Eckerstrom’s first appearance since last August.
Thorns FC goalkeeping coach Nadine Angerer was forced out of retirement to dress as the backup and will likely be asked to do it again as the tournament continues. Angerer, who was the Thorns goalkeeper in 2014, retired from professional play and became director of goalkeeping for the club instead.
Under her coaching, Portland won the NWSL Shield in 2016 and the NWSL Championship in 2017, while goalkeeper Adrianna Franch was named NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year in consecutive seasons. Franch remains out of the Challenge Cup due to a knee injury.
Thorns FC won’t have long to recuperate from the loss of Bixby. They are headed to the semifinals against the Dash, who they’ll play on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. PDT in Utah.