PORTLAND, Ore. – A late goal from 2nd half substitute midfielder Taylor Lytle was all Sky Blue FC (4-1-1, 13pts) needed to defeat the Portland Thorns (4-1-1, 13pts), in front of 11,055 at JELD-WEN Field in Portland, Oregon.

In a match between two teams loaded with offensive firepower, it may have been expected that was going to be a shootout, and it was, with both teams having several chances on goal early and often, putting each team’s respective backlines and especially goalkeepers Brittany Cameron (Sky Blue FC) and Karina LeBlanc (Portland) on their toes.

“I was very happy with our backline and our goalkeeping,” said Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone after the match. “I thought they were very solid defending. I didn’t think Sky Blue created a ton of chances, but they did the one thing that actually counts in this game and they put it in the back of the net.”

Portland came out attacking early, as has been their custom, but the Christie Rampone-led defense was more than up to the task, either forcing the Thorns to take tough shots or muting the attack.

“They played a very tactical. They dropped in a played a very smart, defensive game, and you have to meticulously get through that,” said defender Rachel Buehler. “It’s frustrating and it was hard to kind of break through their block.”

While Portland came out and pushed for much of the first half, Sky Blue made a late run towards the end of the half, led by the attacking line of forwards Danesha Adams, Lisa De Vanna, and Kelley O’Hara, attempting several shots that mostly from distance or were off-target, but did enough to make the Thorns move into more of a defensive shell.  With this late push, Sky Blue went into the break having taken eight shots to Portland’s three.

As both teams came out of the second half, it was clear they were looking to still try and figure out how to crack the opposing defense.  Portland appeared to make a slight tactical adjustment, moving forward Christine Sinclair from less of a withdrawn role to more attacking from the center of the pitch, while forwards Alex Morgan and Meleana Shim were coming in from the wings, often switching sides and hoping to catch Sky Blue off-guard, while Sky Blue appeared to just want to stick to their game-plan of pushing the Thorns defense and hoping for a breakdown somewhere.

The Thorns looked to continue to push for the opening goal, and had several solid chances, but the Sky Blue defense was able to handle it or force a poor shot.

Seeing that the Thorns needed more of a spark, the Thorns brought on super-sub forward Danielle Foxhoven in the 63rd minute, and she looked to have an immediate impact, creating many chances, including what was possibly the best chance of the night for the Thorns.  Off a short corner, Foxhoven found Morgan at the top of the 18 yard box, who fired a shot just over the crossbar.

The difference in the match turned out to be a seemingly innocuous substitution by Sky Blue of Taylor Lytle for defender Kendall Johnson in the 78th minute.  A little-known midfielder, Lytle had a big impact on the result.  On the pitch for less than two minutes, Lytle received a pass off a free kick from defender CoCo Goodson about 25 years from goal and placed it perfectly in the top corner past a diving LeBlanc.

“They took an incredible shot,” explained Buehler. “It’s one of those goals that was an amazing goal on their part. That finish was unbelievable. There’s not much you can do about it … it was a very good shot on her part.”

In the unfamiliar position of being down a goal for only the second time all season, the Thorns committed to their offense for the remaining 10 minutes of the match, but were unable to find the back of the net.

The result places both Sky Blue and Portland at the top of the NWSL table with identical records of 4-1-1 for 13 points, with Portland remaining number 1 by virtue of a greater goal differential.

While both teams came in with high-powered offenses and had their chances, Sky Blue leading the final shot count 13 to 11, the defense was the star of the show, frustrating both teams immensely and forcing the attack to take poor chances.

“I’m happy with the number of chances we’re creating,” Cone said, when asked about the attack. “I’m not happy with the number for shots we’re getting on frame.”

Morgan led the Thorns in total shots with five (2 on goal), while Sinclair added four (2 on goal) while De Vanna led Sky Blue with four (2 on goal) and midfielder Katy Freels added three (1 on goal).

The match was a homecoming for the Thorns, having a single home match before tonight, a 2-1 victory over Seattle, but was also for Sky Blue midfielder Sophie Schmidt and Johnson who starred for the University of Portland in their collegiate careers.  Schmidt attended UP from 2007-2010, while Johnson, who is a Portland native, finished her collegiate career last fall as the 2012 West Coast Conference Defender of the Year.  UP was also well represented on the Thorns, with all-time leading scorer Sinclair (2001-2005), midfielder Angie Kerr (2003-2007), and Foxhoven (2008-2011).  The University of Portland Athletic Department did an excellent write-up on their website, including quotes and statistics, which can be found here.

Both teams have another quick turnaround this Sunday, as Sky Blue heads to Tukwila, WA to take on the Seattle Reign (0-5-1, 1pt), while the Thorns will host the Washington Spirit (1-2-3, 6pts) at JELD-WEN Field at 2:00pm PDT (5:00pm EDT).  The Spirit defeated the Reign 4-2 on Thursday.

Watch the full match replay:

Portland Thorns FC (4-1-1, 13pts) vs. Sky Blue FC (4-1-1, 13pts)
May 16, 2013 – JELD-WEN Field (Portland, Ore.)

Goals by Half               1          2          F
SKY                               0          1          1
POR                              0          0          0

Scoring Summary
SKY — Lytle (Goodson)  80

Misconduct Summary
POR — Sinclair (caution) 79

Lineups & Stats

POR: GK Karina LeBlanc; D Marian Dougherty, D Rachel Buehler, D Kathryn Williamson, D Nikki Marshall, M Becky Edwards, M Allie Long, M Meleana Shim (Danielle Foxhoven, 63), M Nikki Washington (Angie Kerr, 85), F Christine Sinclair (capt.), F Alex Morgan

Substitutes Not Used: GK Adelaide Gay, D Jazmyne Avant, M Elizabeth Guess, M Courtney Wetzel, F Jessica Shufelt

TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Morgan, 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Morgan/Sinclair, 2); FOULS: 5 (Morgan, 2); OFFSIDES: 8; CORNER KICKS: 7; SAVES: 5

SKY: GK Brittany Cameron, D Christie Rampone (capt.), D Caitlin Foord, D Courtney Goodson, D Kendall Johnson (Taylor Lytle, 78), M Manya Makoski, M Sophie Schmidt, M Katy Freels, F Danesha Adams (Maddie Thompson, 90), F Kelley O’Hara, F Lisa De Vanna

Substitutes Not Used: GK Jill Loyden, M Brittany Bock, D Lindsi Lisonbee Cutshall, F Monica Ocampo

TOTAL SHOTS: 13 (De Vanna, 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (De Vanna/Freels, 2); FOULS: 11 (Three players tied, 2); OFFSIDES: 1; CORNER KICKS: 3; SAVES: 5

Referee: Josh Wilkens
Assistant Referees: Veronica Perez, Farhad Dadkho
Fourth Official: Ronald Lagraff
Attendance: 11,055
Weather: 55 degrees, cloudy

All statistics contained in this box score are unofficial