(Image courtesy of Portland Thorns twitter)
The Thorns were facing expansion side Louisville without many of their household names, but instead of shriveling in the shadows, multiple Portland players bloomed in the spotlight en route to a 2-0 win and a climb into second place in the NWSL standings.
History was made in the 83rd minute when 15-year old Olivia Moultrie jogged onto the field for her professional debut, becoming the youngest NWSL player ever. Sure, her impact was minimal with only around 10 minutes of play, but her star shines brightly for the future of not only the Thorns, but the sport.
Though her time on the field was short, she certainly did not look out of place. Moultrie featured in an attacking midfield role, not shying away from any challenges in her area. The youngster caused a turnover in the attacking half and connected on a dangerous pass. With multiple attacking powerhouses away on Olympic duty, Moultrie could potentially see more meaningful minutes over the next few weeks and if her early showing is any indication, that should get everyone excited.
One of the most notable absences for Portland is starting keeper Adrianna Franch who leaves behind big gloves to fill. On this day, Bella Bixby was more than up to the task. The Thorns goalie was making her first appearance since her stellar performance at last year’s Challenge Cup, coming off of a nasty injury. It didn’t take long for us to be reminded why Bixby was one of the standout keepers of the inaugural Challenge Cup.
Bixby was tested just 42 seconds in, being asked to make a solid catch off of a cross. It was more of the same very early on in the second half, but Bixby never looked out of practice. When asked postgame about his “backup’s” performance, head coach Mark Parsons said that “It’s very rare that another number one steps in when your number one heads to the Olympics, but that’s what we’ve got at this club. And we’re proud of that.” All in all, Bixby’s first ever regular season NWSL performance is a launching pad that could create a tandem to strike fear into the league for years to come.
Third star of the night goes to an unsung hero, but someone who deserves a lot of love on the Portland backline: Emily Menges. The centre back was making her 123rd appearance on the night and earned her first ever NWSL assist. Menges is a reliable backline boost for the Thorns and will hopefully be getting more of the spotlight with Sauerbrunn away in Tokyo.
Menges’ first assist was an elite level cross onto the forehead of Simone Charley who made no mistake getting Portland up 2-0. On the other side of the ball, the centre back was key in keeping Louisville at bay, a task easier said than done as the expansion side was coming in having won two of three and were poised to make a massive jump in the standings.
Who do you think will be the next Thorns to take the spotlight? Let me know on Twitter!
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