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The two-time defending National Women’s Soccer League champions are out.
Portland’s goalkeeping depth is very much in.
The Thorns knocked out the North Carolina Courage 1-0 on Friday in the first game of the NWSL Challenge Cup’s knockout phase. The Courage earned the top seed by blistering their way to a 4-0 group stage record, and haven’t looked beatable much of the past three years.
How did the eighth-seeded Thorns do it? Well, thanks in part to Morgan Weaver’s goal in the 68th minute, crashing the net to finish a cross from Rocky Rodriguez (via CBS Sports):
But perhaps the biggest key to the victory was goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom, who made eight saves to preserve the shutout and whose penalty area looked like the surface of the sun on the postgame heat map.
Eckerstrom stopped a Debinha breakaway cold in the 86th minute, enticing announcer Mike Watts to call her day “one of the great goalkeeping performances in league history.”
Her finest moment may have come in the 79th minute, when she soared to her right and got a hand to a near-perfect Debinha free kick:
Eckertstrom was starting in place of Bella Bixby, who had been exceptional for the Thorns all tournament but was injured in the build-up to Friday’s contest. That also forced goalkeeper coach Nadine Angerer, a 41-year-old two-time Women’s World Cup winner with Germany, out of retirement so she could be the backup.
Not ideal circumstances. Or you wouldn’t have thought so before the match.
Now, thanks to Eckerstrom and the rest of the Thorns, the outlook is much brighter.
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