Add another Portland Thorns member to the history books: Olivia Moultrie.
The 16-year-old midfielder was a late addition to Portland’s starting lineup against the Houston Dash on Sunday due to injury, and she stepped in to score her first career NWSL goal late in a dominating victory for his team. She is the youngest player to score a goal in the NWSL.
“I think every player thinks what their first goal looks like or 90 minutes or whatever it is,” Moultrie said. “I’ve thought about it before, but bringing it to fruition is a very exciting time for me. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while and preparing for. I’m just excited that it happened today and it was a great moment.
Sophia Smith scored two goals, in addition to Moultrie’s assist, leading the way for the Thorns (3-1-4, 13 points) in a 4-0 thrashing of Dash (3-2-3, 12 points).
“I’m just super proud of her,” Smith said of Moultrie. “She is very young, but her age is just a number. She continues to prove it every day in training and now in games. She was ready. Her name was called at the last minute, but she didn’t let that affect her and walked out confidently.
Veteran forward Christine Sinclair was eliminated at the last minute, replaced by Moultrie. A source from Thorns told The Oregonian/OregonLive that Sinclair suffered a calf strain during warm-ups and was ruled out of the game for precautionary reasons. The injury is not believed to be serious and will be further assessed when the team returns home to Portland.
The Thorns quickly took the lead with an own goal. A ball played by Hina Sugita in the first minute bounced off Houston defender Katie Naughton and into the back of the net, putting Portland up 1-0.
The hot and humid conditions in Houston were brutal from the start, players and coaches said.
“Very, very hot today,” Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson said. “Difficult conditions. Wet. I had an early goal from a deflection but I was just telling the team that if you don’t put the ball in dangerous areas you don’t get goals like that. That’s us really gave confidence at the start. Even though Houston had moments in the first half, I thought the team was really united.
In the seventh minute, Houston’s best chance of the half came from a long catch from Shea Groom, whose shot bounced off the crossbar and forced Portland goalkeeper Bella Bixby to pounce.
Portland nearly scored again in the 19th minute on a through ball from Sam Coffey to Rocky Rodriguez, but Rodriguez couldn’t put enough force on his shot and he was saved.
Smith wouldn’t be denied, however.
In the 23rd minute, Portland’s talismanic young star drew a penalty after being brought down in the box by a Houston defender. Smith stepped forward and calmly nailed the penalty kick, sending it to his left and with pace.
Smith nearly scored another goal in the 29th minute, but his long shot went off the crossbar. The Thorns led 2-0 at half-time and played effective and solid team play during the break.
The second half was devoted to Moultrie and Smith. Moultrie had two solid shots on goal in the 48th and 58th minutes, but she finally broke through in the 74th minute. On a broken play with the goalkeeper out of position, Smith returned the ball to Moultrie wide open, who put it home for his first career goal and a historic achievement.
Wilkinson noted that Moultrie had conversations with her and Thorns general manager Karina LeBlanc backstage about how to increase her role. In many Portland games this season, Moultrie has been in the substitute group but hasn’t seen the field.
“As the youngest player on the team and really wanting to work in a starting role one day and a bigger role with the Thorns, those conversations are really about how can I get closer to that every day,” Moultrie said. “I think the main thing for me right now is obviously the maturity in this league is very high. I’m just working to grow in that aspect every day. Being in and around a team like the Thorns really helps you to grow and mature faster, and so that’s one of the first reasons why I always wanted to do this and join this club.
Smith scored her second goal of the night in the 83rd minute as she fired one hard enough to get out of the Houston defender and in, setting the stage for a dominating performance for the Thorns in a key road game.
“I think that helps tremendously to give us momentum and energy to move forward,” Smith said. “We haven’t been very happy with the results we’ve had so I think just a reminder of what it feels like to win is important. It just makes us want to keep feeling that way and gives us all a lot. of trust and faith in ourselves and in the system.”
Portland’s last game before the international break is at home against Orlando Pride, scheduled for Sunday noon at Providence Park (TV on Fox 12 Plus, streaming on Paramount+).
–Ryan Clarke, firstname.lastname@example.org