PORTLAND -- The Portland Thorns FC might not be interested in second place in the National Women's Soccer League.
But that was the spot up for grabs on Wednesday in front of 13,769 fans at Jeld-Wen Field, and the Thorns responded with a 3-1 win over Sky Blue of New Jersey. The Thorns and Sky Blue entered Wednesday sharing second place with 31 points. The victory puts Portland three points ahead of Sky Blue, and Portland has played one fewer game.
Next is a shot at league-leading FC Kansas City as the Thorns (10-4-4) close out their regular-season home schedule on Sunday. Kansas City (10-4-5) is one point ahead of Portland.
Alex Morgan scored her team-leading seventh goal and was trouble for Sky Blue from the opening whistle. Mana Shim scored for the fourth consecutive game, and Allie Long delivered a perfect shot to close out the scoring.
Portland would have scored several more goals if not for the play of Sky Blue goalkeeper Jill Loyden, who finished with nine saves as the Thorns took 25 shots, 13 on target. Loyden robbed Morgan of three more goals and also made an unlikely save to deny Long early in the match.
"We're moving in the right direction," Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. "We had some good finishes tonight. We showed a little bit more composure in front of goal, which we've been working on, and just a little bit more focus."
Morgan, who was denied on a one-on-one chance in the 33rd minute by Loyden, didn't miss a breakaway chance four minutes later. The play started with Rachel Buehler stepping forward on defense and pushing a pass to Shim, who quickly lofted a pass over the defense to set Morgan free.
Shim gave Portland a 2-1 lead in the 65th minute. The midfielder converted a rebound after Loyden blocked a Morgan shot on a play that was set up by a cross-field pass to Morgan from Tobin Heath.
Long made it 3-1 in the 73rd minute, taking a quick shot from the left corner of the penalty area that found the upper right corner of the goal for her third goal of the season.
After seeing a two-goal lead melt into a tie against Chicago on Sunday -- and after falling behind early in this match -- the Thorns did what they badly needed to do on Wednesday.
The Thorns had a pair of golden chances early in the match. Only seconds in, Morgan dashed around the defense and fed Shim alone in front, but Shim's shot darted outside the left post. In the 15th minute, Allie Long made a nifty move in the right side of the penalty area and bounced a shot off the turf that Loyden managed to deflect outside the post.