Skip to content

Portland Thorns FC win NWSL title: Moments to remember from league’s first championship game

Aug 31, 2013, 10:37 PM EDT

NWSL Championship - Portland Thorns FC v Western New York Flash Getty Images

At the onset of the NWSL season, the Portland Thorns were widely picked to take home the new women’s league’s first title. Somewhere along the way, that favorite’s status waned, with the team finishing the season in third place despite talents like Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, and Tobin Heath.

But on Saturday in Rochester, that talent — along with inspired play from the team’s defense — won out. Heath’s first half bomb from 30-plus yards gave Portland a lead at regular season champion Western New York. In second half stoppage time, their team playing with 10, Portland saw Sinclair ice the club’s improbable title run, a 2-0 win rendering a season of promise and frustration a distant memory.

Portland stayed near the league lead most of the season, but by mid-August, their hopes of winning the regular season title had faded. Ultimately, they’d have to claim their crown on the road, with matches at FC Kansas City and Western New York — thought to be the league’s two best teams — seemingly setting the team up for a disappointing finish.

But forgetting regular season disappointment to find the type of unity that’s eluded them all season, Portland proved the best team over the two weeks that mattered. They overcame injuries (to Heath and Morgan), two excellent teams, and ultimately, doubt. As a result, the team most picked to claim the first NWSL title fulfilled their destiny, shutting out the regular season champions to do so.

Here are the moments to remember from today’s 2-0 result at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, NY:

source: Getty Images1. Goalkeepers come up big, early

Karina LeBlanc (right) and Adrianna Franch were tested high all day, the first major chance coming in the 12th minute. When Abby Wambach went left and lobbed a ball far post, right wing Samantha Kerr had her way with Nikki Marshall, out-jumping the Portland left back to head what could have been a goal. But LeBlanc reacted quickly, pushed the shot onto the bar, and managed to grab a rebound that nearly went in off her back in. The Portland keeper kept it 0-0.

Ten minutes later, it was Franch’s turn. Portland right back Marian Dougherty was given all the room she wanted to fire a cross in from the right. Sinclair, streaking across the face of Western New York’s central defense, redirected a ball toward the top of Franch’s goal. But the rookie for Oklahoma State, called on to make a pure reflex save, pushed it over, matching LeBlanc save-for-save early on.

2. Abby Wambach gets Kathryn Williamson sent off

Pity the rookie her opponent — the first year defender from Florida matching-up up against a former Gator who just happens to be the world’s best player — but Kathryn Williamson knew what she was getting into. In two games against Abby Wambach in the regular season, the Thorns central defender had held her own. On Saturday, Wambach targeted her in the second half, eventually drawing two yellow cards.

The first came in the 49th minute, when Williamson was lucky to avoid a straight red after a ball over the top looked set to send Wambach in on goal. Four minutes later, Williamson deservds a second yellow for a nasty challenge on hte Flash number nine, but the official had pity. In the 56th minute, however, that pity ran out, with Portland defender taking down Wambach at the edge of the area, drawing a second yellow card.

Portland would play the final 34 minutes with 10, eventually bringing on former U.S. international Tina Ellertson to partner Rachel Buehler in central defense. Remarkably, the teams was still able to keep the league’s best attack off the board, maintaining their clean sheer despite Wambach getting Williamson sent off.

source: Getty Images3. Carli Lloyd shoots. Again. And again.

Counting her double in the semifinals, Carli Lloyd scored 10 goals this season, one of four players to reach double-digits this year. In Saturday’s first half, she had numerous opportunities to add her 11th, including a 25th minute chance set up by Adriana Martin that saw her push her shot wide right despite being one-on-one with LeBlanc.

As the game went on, Lloyd seemed to single-mindedly look for that 11th goal. A try from the edge of the area set up by Wambach. Dead balls from distance around the Portland area. Predatory runs into the box. Lloyd was an attacking midfielder with a sniper’s mentality, racking up eight shots by the final whistle.

Every time she let loose, there was a chance she would equalize. It was worth a gasp. She has that kind of talent. And as her Olympics performances have shown, Lloyd also has that kind of timing.

Tonight, however, it never happened. Ultimately, Lloyd’s most important goal of the season was the one that never came.

source: Getty Images4. Tobin Heath wins the title for the Thorns

Watch her in warm ups and you’ll see the power in Heath’s shot. Released quickly with a slightly more topspin than a normal player’s, Heath can be a special kind of trouble when given too much room within 24 yards.

In the 40th minute, she was far beyond 24 yards. After a Western New York foul just inside Portland’s attacking third, Heath was closer to 32 yards from Franch’s goal, but with one of the most spectacular strikes of her career, Heath paved Portland’s title path.

Opting for power over precision, Heath straight-on approach launched the ball above the Flash wall with that typical top spin, her heavy strike dipping below Franch’s cross bar as the rookie goalkeeper leapt under the ball. Having set herself up to defend the left side of goal, Franch had no chance, eventually clattering against the opposite post as Heath’s shot bend the net and recoiled out. The most important goal of the season was also the best.

Heath was scoreless in seven regular season games after joining the Thorns from mid-season Paris Saint-Germain. In two playoff games, she scored twice, each time overcoming an injured right foot to help push Portland to their title.

5. Christine Sinclair seals it

As full time approached, there was something about Portland that made you believe they were going to close this out. Despite being down a player; despite the presence of Wambach and Lloyd; despite being on the road; and despite the occasional lapses of their defense this season, it was hard to imagine the Flash finding and equalizer. In the last game of a tumultuous season, Portland had finally looked the part. They finally looked like a team that would pull away from the pack.

One minute into stoppage time they sealed it. Sinclair — a Portland resident and a University of Portland alum — was put in alone on goal after a long throw in deep in Western New York’s half. The huge gap between right back Katherine Reynolds and the next defender was a complete breakdown by a team pressing for the equalizer, one that left Franch with no chance to stop Sinclair as the former Flash forward pulled up from 15 yards.

With the shot headed far post, Western New York’s only hope was for “Sinc’s” shot to catch the post. No chance. The insurance goal nestled against the left side netting as the 30-year-old Canadian ran for the sideboards, celebrating in front of fans silenced by her title-clinching goal.

It was her ninth of the season, and certainly her most memorable. Seeing her team come together after an inconsistent, often frustrating season, Sinclair had captained her hometown club to the NWSL’s first title, the Thorns’ 2-0 win Saturday in Rochester allowing the preseason favorites to finish an improbable if expected championship run.

Latest Posts
  1. MLS Snapshot: Seattle Sounders 0-3 Vancouver Whitecaps (video)

    Aug 2, 2015, 12:02 AM EDT

    Pa Modou Kah, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Pa Modou Kah, Vancouver Whitecaps FC

    That’s 7 losses in 8 games for the Sounders. Meanwhile, the ‘Caps go top of the West.

  2. MLS Snapshot: Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Houston Dynamo (video)

    Aug 1, 2015, 10:47 PM EDT

    Tim Melia, Sporting Kansas City Tim Melia, Sporting Kansas City

    Another Royal Rumble between old rivals. While the rest of MLS went goal-crazy, these two did what they always do.

  3. MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 5-2 Columbus Crew SC (video)

    Aug 1, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT

    Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

    The goals floweth over in MLS tonight. Cyle Larin scored his second straight brace for Orlando City.

  4. MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 6-4 Real Salt Lake (video)

    Aug 1, 2015, 9:11 PM EDT

    Andrew Dykstra, D.C. United Andrew Dykstra, D.C. United

    D.C. United and RSL combined for 10 goals at RFK Stadium Saturday night. Let the video do the talking.

  5. Premier League friendly roundup: Man City lose in Germany, Liverpool win in Finland

    Aug 1, 2015, 7:25 PM EDT

    Manchester City vs. VfB Stuttgart Manchester City vs. VfB Stuttgart

    The Premier League season is here…almost. The final week of preseason has begun.

  6. Wolfsburg, PSG knock off Bayern Munich, Lyon in German, French Super Cups (video)

    Aug 1, 2015, 6:25 PM EDT

    VfL Wolfsburg, 2015 German Super Cup champions VfL Wolfsburg, 2015 German Super Cup champions

    The new seasons in Germany and France are underway following an afternoon full of Super Cup action.

  7. Ex-Mexico manager Miguel Herrera in hot water yet again, this time for political tweets

    Aug 1, 2015, 4:29 PM EDT

    Miguel Herrera, Mexico Miguel Herrera, Mexico

    It’s not been the greatest week of Miguel Herrera’s life. He’s in legal trouble yet again.

  8. MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-3 Montreal Impact (video)

    Aug 1, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT

    Laurent Ciman & Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact FC Laurent Ciman & Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact FC

    Another wild afternoon at Yankee Stadium ends in defeat for NYCFC. Pirlo made his first MLS start and Lampard made his MLS debut.

  9. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Tottenham Hotspur

    Aug 1, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT

    tottenham.crest

    Can Spurs crack the top four? Or will it be another season on the outside looking in at White Hart Lane?

  10. Can Arsene Wenger end his 13-match winless streak against Jose Mourinho?

    Aug 1, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-ARSENAL Getty Images

    Wenger has never beaten Mourinho before, but he’ll have a chance to do so tomorrow in the Community Shield.

  11. Brendan Rodgers says $50 million for Christian Benteke was a bargain

    Aug 1, 2015, 12:56 PM EDT

    Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke Getty Images

    Rodgers better hope his “bargain” buy scores a lot of goals for Liverpool this season.

  12. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Swansea City

    Aug 1, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    swansea.crest

    Coming off of their best-ever Premier League finish, Garry Monk has the Swans thinking about bringing European football to Wales.

  13. Brazilian Fred tested positive for banned substance at Copa America

    Aug 1, 2015, 11:04 AM EDT

    FBL-UKR-SHAKHTA-FRED Getty Images

    He still played in Shakhtar’s Champions League match this week, which could cause his club some troubles.

  14. Saturday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Berbatov to Villa, Rahman to Chelsea

    Aug 1, 2015, 10:07 AM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C1-ARSENAL-MONACO Getty Images

    Is Dimitar Berbatov on his way back to the Premier League? All the latest gossip, right here.

  15. Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Watford

    Aug 1, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT

    watford.crest

    In both of Watford’s two seasons in the Premier League, the club finished in last place. Can the newly promoted Hornets avoid relegation the third time around?

  16. West Ham’s Enner Valencia suffers “significant” injury, no timetable for return

    Aug 1, 2015, 8:15 AM EDT

    West Ham United v Astra - UEFA Europa League Getty Images

    A big blow for the Hammers as the Premier League kicks off a week from today.

  17. Manchester United, adidas unveil kits with “smashing” photos

    Jul 31, 2015, 9:52 PM EDT

    man-fb-mata_3331957

    The leaked images of United’s kit were the real McCoy, and the Red Devils white-cuffed kits are pretty sharp.

  18. Pep Guardiola on final year of contract: “Not completely convinced” he’s right for Bayern

    Jul 31, 2015, 8:14 PM EDT

    GUANGZHOU, CHINA - JULY 23: Pep Guardiola, coach of Bayern Munich FC looks on after losing the International Friendly Match of Volkswagen Cup between Bayern Munich FC and Guangzhou Evergrande at Tianhe Stadium on July 23, 2015 in Guangzhou, China.  (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Guardiola can erase a minor Bayern demon with his first Super Cup win on Saturday versus Wolfsburg.

  19. Fourth-tier NPSL, PDL to hold semifinals this weekend; PDL to hold final, too

    Jul 31, 2015, 7:08 PM EDT

    New York Cosmos B New York Cosmos B

    In the PDL, Seattle Sounders U-23, New York Red Bulls U-23, K-W United and Ocala Stampede are left, while the NPSL has New York Cosmos B, Chattanooga FC, Indiana Fire and CD Aguiluchos USA remaining.

Featured video

What can we expect from PL new boys?