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Thorns goalkeeper scores backheel equalizer in wild NWSL finish

Portland Thorns FC goalkeeper Bella Bixby and her teammates celebrate after she scored a goal against Angel City FC to secure a 3-3 draw. (Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

Even for the NWSL, Saturday night’s match between the Portland Thorns and Angel City featured an extraordinary number of chaotic twists and turns.

And none was bigger than the final play of the game. Trailing 3-2 in the seventh minute of five minutes of stoppage time, Portland Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby was sent to the opposing penalty box for a corner kick. Angel City keeper Didi Haracic managed to get her hands on the ball, but when it slipped through her fingers, Bixby made the most of the moment, scoring a backheel goal.

“I still can’t believe it, but it’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I gotta really absorb it,” Bixby said during her celebratory post-game lap at Portland’s Providence Park.

Bixby is the second goalkeeper to score in NWSL history, joining Michelle Betos, who also salvaged a draw in stoppage time while playing for the Thorns in 2015.

With the draw, Portland remains unbeaten in regular season competition (3-0-2) and in first place in the NWSL standings with 11 overall points.

Saturday’s NWSL match was a back-and-forth battle. Eighteen-year-old Alyssa Thompson got Angel City off to an early lead in the 10th minute, scoring her second goal of the 2023 NWSL season. But when new Angel City signee Julie Ertz fouled Crystal Dunn in the box, Thorns midfielder Hina Sugita converted the penalty to draw the Thorns even 1-1.

Morgan Weaver gave Portland a 2-1 lead in the 65th minute, taking advantage of a beautifully placed pass from Olivia Moultrie.

After two quick set-piece goals from Angel City — a Thorns own goal (74′) and Julie Ertz header (79′) — the visitors appeared en route to a 3-2 win.

And then came Bella Bixby’s big moment.

“It was a rollercoaster of emotions,” Thorns coach Mike Norris told The Oregonian. “Angel City came with the energy and we didn’t match that structurally. It was disappointing and we addressed that at halftime and were happy with the second half response.

“We felt we were in control and then two set pieces were costly and we’re chasing the game again. But credit to the group for fighting and keeping composure.”