Down 1-0 late into the second half on Wednesday, the Breakers found their stride, using goals from Lianne Sanderson and Heather O'Reilly to put away the visiting Thorns. An early exit from international icon Alex Morgan did little to help Portland amend Saturday's 3-2 loss to FC Kansas City, sending Morgan's crew into a two-game slide.
Early on in Wednesday's east-west matchup, the Breakers seemed poised to record an early tally. In the 7th minute, forward Sydney Leroux played a diagonal ball to O'Reilly, who sidestepped goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc before running into a series of defenders. A poor clearance nearly allowed O'Reilly to put Boston in front, though Portland's back line did just enough to preserve the 0-0 deadlock.
Less than a full minute later, Morgan collided with Breakers' defender Jazmyne Avant, sending the forward onto the turf in pain. Morgan's exit forced fans to fear the worst, though post-game reports cited no ligament damage.
For the remainder of the first half, the Breakers found space in the attacking third, vehemently searching for Wednesday's first goal. In the 20th minute, Leroux hit a line drive toward Leblanc's left side, forcing the keeper to make a sensational outstretched save.
Though Boston continued to push forward with purpose and urgency, the Thorns collected several chances of their own before closing the first half. In the 26th minute, Canadian International Christine Sinclair beat Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher one-on-one, though continued pressure from Naeher forced Sinclair to take a pair of unwanted touches. With an open goal before her, Sinclair patiently slotted her shot on frame; Breakers interim coach Cat Whitehill entered the tail end of the play, sliding to defend the shot from its intended target.
Portland nearly found the net again in the 42nd minute, when defender Nikki Marshall collected a through ball on the left side of the box. Once again, the Breakers left unscathed, as Naeher cut down Marshall's angle and made a low reaction save to her left. Though a scrambled ensued - and the Thorns attempted to place several rebounds into the open net - the Breakers ensured that Naeher and co. would enter the break on level terms.
In the second 45, the Breakers' momentum immediately changed hands. A series of goal-scoring opportunities led Portland to convert Wednesday's first goal, sending defender Courtney Wetzel into the box to beat Naeher and collect an unassisted goal.
Seemingly content with the one-goal advantage, the Thorns calmly drew back, allowing Boston to continue pushing for the equalizer. In the 68th minute, Leroux collected a simple through ball from teammate Kyah Simon before playing Sanderson in front of goal. The extra touch paid off; Sanderson calmly slotted her shot past Leblanc, emphatically drawing Boston even with second-place Portland.
After nearly finding the game-winner on several occasions, the Breakers finally pushed through, using a free kick to seal the comeback. With just four minutes remaining, Whitehill sent a free kick from her own half into Leblanc's box, flawlessly leading O'Reilly into a one-on-one with Portland's goalkeeper. With unbelievable poise, O'Reilly tucked her shot inside the far post, solidifying the comeback in front of a sellout crowd at Dilboy Stadium.
Although Whitehill and co. learned of their postseason fate just moments after defeating Portland - Western New York's 1-0 win over Seattle eliminated Boston from playoff contention - the Breakers left Wednesday's match as victors, preparing to play spoiler as the NWSL playoff hunt continues.
After scoring Wednesday's game-winner - and momentarily keeping Boston's playoff hope's alive - midfielder Heather O'Reilly touched on her team's ability to earn a come-from-behind victory. "We're a resilient bunch," she began. "We're gritty, and were going to fight for each other. It's cool to see the work pay off in big moments like it did tonight." When asked to comment on her 86th minute tally, O'Reilly immediately turned the attention back on her team. "I'm proud of this team - we displayed a lot today, to fight back...There's still time - and were going to keep fighting for each other."
Now 1-0-1 as the Breakers' interim head coach, defender Cat Whitehill lifted up her team for their complete performance. "We still have something to prove and we're playing good soccer," Whitehill said. "We knew they were going to come out with a lot of energy, and we were able to sustain it. We brought it to them. I'm proud of this team."
The Breakers will host top-ranked FC Kansas City for a midweek showdown. Match kicks off at 6 p.m. at Dilboy Stadium.