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FC Kansas City keeps grip on first in NWSL

Thorns fall 3-2 in their final regular-season home match


In perhaps their most important match of the season, the Portland Thorns were just a touch out of sync.

FC Kansas City capitalized, beating the Thorns 3-2 Sunday night at Jeld-Wen Field.

The Portland offense generated opportunity after opportunity. The Thorns had 17 shots and got goals from Danielle Foxhoven in the 52nd minute and Alex Morgan in the 89th.

Kansas City built a 3-1 lead, though, with two of its tallies bouncing off the right hand of goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.

“Losing, and losing in the way we did is very disappointing,” Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said.

First place in the National Women's Soccer League and potential home-field advantage throughout the playoffs were up for grabs.

Kansas City (11-4-5, 38 points) remained out front in the eight-team NWSL. The Thorns (10-5-4, 34 points with three regular-season games to play) are tied for second with Sky Blue FC (10-6-4, 34 points).

The top four teams will make the playoffs. The top two seeds will be home for the first round, with the highest remaining seed hosting the championship match.

The Western New York Flash (8-4-7, 31 points) are in fourth place, and the Chicago Red Stars have the next-best record with only 26 points.

Kansas City struck first on Sunday. Merritt Mathias took the ball down the right side of the pitch and fed striker Lauren Holiday, who was unmarked in the middle of the box, eight yards from goal. Holiday had time to take the ball to the ground, gather herself and send a shot to the right post, where LeBlanc had no chance to make a save.

For an instant, the cheers from the announced crowd of 17,619 went silent. The cliché of someone letting the air out of a giant balloon could not have been more appropriate.

In the 47th minute, Thorns striker Christine Sinclair received a ball in the box from Morgan. Sinclair was taken down in the box by midfielder Desiree Scott, but referee John McCloskey did not call a foul.

“Those of you who have watched 'Sinc' throughout her career, you know she doesn’t dive,” Cone said. “Yes, I thought it was a foul.”

The Thorns pulled even at 1-1 on Foxhoven's right-footed shot from 10 yards, moments after a corner kick.

“My position is to run to the near post," Foxhoven said. "Rachel (Buehler) got the rebound that came out. (Her pass) landed right at me. I took a touch and just shot it.”

In the 55th minute, FC Kansas City went up again, however. Erika Tymrak got the ball at the top of the box and flipped a pass to fellow striker Holiday. She took a touch and fired a shot hard and low and toward the right post. LeBlanc had come off her line to try to defend the shot. LeBlanc was able to get her right hand on the ball. Almost in slow motion, though, the ball rolled toward the empty net, and entered the goal just inside the post.

The Thorns controlled the rest of the match. But in the 74th minute, KC midfielder Kristie Mewis dribbled to the top of the box and had a clear look at the goal. Her shot grazed off LeBlanc's hand and into the net for the 3-1 lead.

Morgan's goal — her team-best ninth of the season — came with KC's Lauren Sesselmann bearing down on her for a tackle.

The Thorns had five minutes of stoppage time to get the equalizer, and the crowd was roaring as loud as it has all season, but Kansas City held on.

All three of Portland's remaining regular-season games will be on the road. The Thorns will play the Boston Breakers on Wednesday, the Western New York Flash on Saturday and the Seattle Reign on Saturday, Aug. 17.

First place remains a possibility for Portland.

“Losing never feels good,” Foxhoven said. “Especially against the first-place team, who I thought we were better than.

"We need to move on past this game. We need to win these next three.”