PORTLAND — The Portland Thorns’ attack found its footing on Wednesday, and eventually was rewarded.
Stuck in an unlikely halftime tie, the Thorns ripped off three goals in a five-minute spell early in the second half on their way to a 5-2 win over the Boston Breakers in front of a crowd of 15,624 at Providence Park.
Midfielder McCall Zerboni separated Portland from last-place Boston (3-10-3, 12 points) with two goals in the span of four minutes. Allie Long had a goal and an assist, and Jodie Taylor and Mana Shim scored goals.
The win moves the Thorns (5-6-4, 19 points) to within one point of fourth-place Houston. The top four teams advance to the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs. Portland has five matches left in the season, including a Sunday visit from second-place Chicago for the Thorns next-to-last home match.
The Thorns entered Wednesday tied for the fewest goals in the NWSL with 15. For a half, despite creating multiple chances, the finishing touch continued to elude the Thorns. A 16th-minute goal by Taylor, a chipped 17-yard shot off a Tobin Heath assist, was countered by a 36th-minute- own goal off of Thorns defender Kat Williamson.
Thorns coach Paul Riley said the halftime message was that if his team played the second 45 minutes the way it did the first 30 minutes, things would work out. He was proven correct quickly, as first-half frustration quickly turned to celebration after celebration.
In the 49th minute, Zerboni timed her run perfectly and a chip pass from Long found her alone near the penalty spot. She settled the pass with her right foot and calmly shot the ball past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
“I could kind of read when (Long) was going to hit that ball and just get a run that’s going to stay onside, on time,” Zerboni said. “We have a good connection together, and great training sessions so we’re able to learn those things about each other and get on the same page and execute those things.”
Four minutes later Zerboni pounced on a rebound to make it 3-1 after Naeher got a piece of a Christine Sinclair cross.
One minute after that it was 4-1 as Shim finished a Sinclair delivery. Long finished the Portland scoring in the 66th minute with her seventh goal of the season by driving home a shot off a Boston clearing attempt.
“In the past I think we’ve scored and then let down our reins a little bit,” Riley said. “I thought today we scored and we pushed on.”
Taylor, who played only the first half as she works back from a knee injury, said she was thrilled to get in on the action with her first goal for the Thorns.
“This is what you work hard for,” she said. “We have an amazing crowd. Every game it’s just fascinating how many supporters we get. To actually play a part and score today felt pretty good.”
The return of Taylor, who nursed her injured knee through England’s World Cup run, means the Thorns have another attacking weapon for teams to worry about.
“Big players make the difference in the final third (of the field),” Riley said. “It’s a work in progress. We’ll keep pushing.”
Kristie Mewis converted a penalty kick in the 87th minute for the second Boston goal.