Match Preview: Portland Thorns vs Kansas City Current

Today is October 29. It’s the day every NWSL fan has been waiting for — to see their team play for the championship. This is the day the Portland Thorns can be crowned champions for the third time in their history.

It was in 2017 that this club last won the NWSL Championship trophy. In a tough game in Orlando, they defeated the North Carolina Courage and lifted the second cup in their history. 2018 then gave the Thorns an opportunity to become back-to-back champions, but the Courage got their revenge, leaving Portland heartbroken with a 0-3 defeat at a packed Providence Park. Crystal Dunn, who scored the goal that clinched Portland’s ticket to the 2022 Finals, was part of that powerful Courage team.

Crystal already has two championships under her belt, both with NC. The same can be said for Becky Sauerbrunn: She won the title twice with FC Kansas City. Christine Sinclair is the third player with the same number of awards on the team. Can they lift third?

Funny enough, the two times the Thorns won the championship trophy, it wasn’t at home. In 2013, they lifted the cup in Rochester, New York, and in 2017, they did it on the home field of the Orlando Pride in Florida. Today the final will be played at Audi Field in Washington DC Should we take this as a good sign?

Well, this season has been sweet for Portland playing away from home. They have lost just once away from home and have scored 22 goals, the most of any team in the league, while completing 11 away games without a clean sheet.

Portland has shown they have great offensive depth, but what about their defense? I don’t think we’ve talked much about the big blow that was the loss of Emily Menges in the middle of the season. The veteran was the rock Portland needed on defense for nearly nine years. Despite this, Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelli Hubly have formed one of the best center backs in the league. The Thorns backline finished the season with nine shutouts, tied for the league lead, and conceded 24 goals, third fewest in the NWSL.

There’s a lot we could write about the team’s stats: They’ve broken some records this year, but some things can’t be measured. It’s been a tough year for Portland, but that’s nothing new. But regardless, this team proved to be strong enough to get back up, time and time again, no matter how hard they were knocked down.

Because how do you measure Kelli Hubly’s journey? How do you measure Christine Sinclair still leading the Thorns at 39? How do you measure Crystal Dunn giving birth to baby Marcelo 156 days ago and scoring to punch Portland’s ticket to the championship final last Sunday?

And veterans aside, we haven’t talked enough about Olivia Moultrie and her contribution to the team, even though she hasn’t played much this season. Taylor Porter, another player who hasn’t played much, has also contributed a lot this year. We also haven’t talked enough about Yazmeen Ryan, who started against San Diego in the semifinals. She won that starting spot, she was a revelation player this year. And speaking of youth, I think we don’t often remember how young Sophia Smith is because her soccer IQ and talent are beyond her years.

Portland has been dealing with tough issues off the field for two seasons now, and the team could easily have slipped in quality. The fact that Mark Parsons was no longer there could have been another valid reason. But these players know who they are playing for and the history and culture of the club. So, far from using the off-the-field issues as an excuse, they used it as a springboard to further growth.

Coach Rhian Wilkinson put it very well in the pre-match press conference when she said:

“I know this is a group that could have easily fallen apart last season and really gone their separate ways, but as a team they decided to come together to get even stronger through a lot of adversity that was aimed at Portland, and that’s what happened. again this year […]. I’m very grateful that the team themselves decided to really bond over this and that our connection as a team, as a group, has become even stronger.”

You could see on the players’ faces what it meant to win last Sunday with everything that was – and is – going on. And to win that game in the final minutes was something epic. But the Thorns know they haven’t won anything yet, that the biggest test will come in just a few hours and against a worthy opponent, a humble team. Don’t think Kansas City is an underdog. No, that would be a mistake. Portland knows that, and AD Franch will be the target to remind them.

It will be a battle with two teams with two different styles. But at the end of the 90 minutes, when the final whistle blows and the crowds fall silent, the players will remember that win or lose, it was just another game. Big, yes, but ultimately a game. So they have to remember to have fun because playing in the final is a privilege and they owe it to themselves to enjoy it.

As captain Christine Sinclair put it, “We play for a living. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?’

Don’t miss Portland Thorns vs Kansas City Current at 5:00 PM Pacific on CBS Sports for US fans and Twitch for international fans.

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