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Olivia Moultrie makes history, Portland Thorns handle Houston Dash 4-0 in key road matchup

Add another member of the Portland Thorns 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 dominant win for her team. She is the youngest-ever player to score a goal in the NWSL.

“I think every player thinks about what their first goal or 90 minutes or whatever that looks like,” Moultrie said. “I’ve thought about it before in the past, but it coming into reality is a very exciting moment for me. It’s something I’ve thought about for a while and just been preparing for. I’m just excited it happened today and it was a great moment.”

Sophia Smith had two goals of her own, along with the assist to Moultrie, leading the way for the Thorns (3-1-4, 13 points) in a 4-0 thrashing of the Dash (3-2-3, 12 points ).

“I’m just super proud of her,” Smith said of Moultrie. “She’s very young, but her age is only a number. She continues to prove that each and every day in training and now in the games. She was ready. Her name was called last-minute, but she didn’t let that affect her and came out with confidence.”

Veteran forward Christine Sinclair was a last-minute scratch, replaced by Moultrie. A Thorns source told The Oregonian/OregonLive that Sinclair suffered a calf strain during warm-ups and she was held out of the match for precautionary reasons. The injury isn’t believed to be serious and she will be further evaluated as the team returns home to Portland.

The Thorns got out to an early lead due to an own goal. A ball played in by Hina Sugita in the first minute took a bounce 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 get-go, players and coaches said.

“Very, very hot today,” Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson said. “Hard conditions. humid. Got an early goal on a deflection, but I was just telling the team that if you’re not putting the ball in dangerous areas, you don’t get goals like that. That really gave us confidence early. Even though Houston had moments in the first half, I thought the team really stuck together.”

In the seventh minute, Houston’s best chance of the half came on a long take from Shea Groom, whose shot bounced off the crossbar and forced Portland goalkeeper Bella Bixby to leap up for it.

Portland nearly scored again in the 19th minute on a ball in from Sam Coffey to Rocky Rodriguez, but Rodriguez couldn’t put enough strength on her shot and it was saved.

Smith would not be denied, however.

In the 23rd minute, Portland’s talismanic young star drew a penalty call after being taken down in the box by a Houston defender. Smith stepped up to the spot and calmly nailed the penalty kick, sending it to her left and in with pace.

Smith nearly had another goal in the 29th minute, but her long shot went off the crossbar. The Thorns led 2-0 at the half and played an efficient, strong team game up through the break.

The second half was all about Moultrie and Smith. Moultrie had a pair of strong takes at 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 played the ball back to a wide-open Moultrie, who put it home for his first career goal and an historic achievement.

Wilkinson noted that Moultrie has been having conversations with her and Thorns GM Karina LeBlanc behind the scenes about how to increase her role. In many of Portland’s games this season, Moultrie has been among the group of substitutes but not seen the field.

“As the youngest player on the team and just really wanting to work someday into a starting role and a bigger role within the Thorns, those conversations really consist of 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 on growing in that aspect every single day. Being in and around a team like the Thorns really helps you grow and mature at a faster rate, and so that’s one of the initial reasons why I ever 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 go off the Houston defender and in, putting the cap on a dominating performance for the Thorns in a key road contest.

“I think it helps a ton to give us momentum and energy going forward,” Smith said. “We haven’t been super satisfied with the results that we’ve been getting, so I think just a reminder of what it feels like to win is important. It just makes us want to continue to feel that and gives us all a lot of confidence and belief in ourselves and the system.”

Portland’s final match before the international break is at home against the Orlando Pride, scheduled for noon next Sunday at Providence Park (TV on Fox 12 Plus, streaming on Paramount+).

— Ryan Clarke, rclarke@oregonian.com

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