PORTLAND — Their fate decided before they took the field on Sunday, the Portland Thorns gave a packed Providence Park a glimpse of what might have been.
And, perhaps fittingly, the result was not a victory as the Thorns settled for a 3-3 draw with the playoff-bound Washington Spirit in Portland’s final home game of this National Women’s Soccer League season.
Alex Morgan, in only her third game for Portland this season, had a goal and an assist as the Thorns charged back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to ever-so-briefly lead.
But Crystal Dunn scored twice and assisted on the other goal for Washington. Her second goal came less than a minute after Jodie Taylor gave the Thorns a 3-2 lead at the end of a beautiful Portland attack.
Tobin Heath, who supplied her usual energy, converted a penalty kick for the other Portland goal.
“The crowd never disappoints here, and they just went above and beyond,” Heath said. “Obviously we were disappointed to not be going to the playoffs. We wanted to give them a good game, we wanted to give them a reason to smile and to celebrate and enjoy themselves. And I felt like we did, especially in the second half.”
The night was particularly emotional for Rachel Van Hollebeke and goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, retiring Thorns who were honored before the match.
Van Hollebeke was involved in the go-ahead goal. Her cross-field pass found Morgan’s head at the far post and Morgan nodded the ball down for Taylor to tap home. This morning, she will catch a flight to begin medical school.
“It was an exciting fun game. I loved it. And I savored every minute of it,” Van Hollebeke said.
It was a special night, too, for Morgan, who missed most of the season with injuries and the World Cup. She said that trailing 2-0 at halftime the Thorns decided just to go for it.
“We realized that we really just needed to relax and just have fun and play,” Morgan said. “As long as we take risks and prove to ourselves that we’re putting our best foot forward, that’s all we can do for our fans. And I think we did that in the second half.”
When it was over — after the Thorns narrowly missed a winning goal three times into stoppage time — Morgan and her teammates went into the stands to visit with the Rose City Riveters supporters group.
It was a moment of mutual appreciation.
“Tonight,” Heath said, “showed just how special this city and the fans really are.”