Portland Thorns lead Kansas City Current to win third NWSL title

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The Portland Thorns took advantage of defensive mistakes at the start of each half on Saturday to defeat the Kansas City Current 2-0 in the National Women’s Soccer League final at Audi Field.

Sophia Smith, the NWSL MVP and rising star of the US national team, scored in the fourth minute and the Thorns added to their total with an own goal from Kansas City in front of 17,624 spectators, including Billie Jean King, to win their third title since the league’s inception. in 2013.

Portland, the No. 2 seed in the six-team playoff, has been a pillar of excellence since the league’s inception, finishing lower than third just once and advancing to the Finals four times. The Thorns also lifted the trophy in 2013 and ’17 and finished second in 2018.

The defeat dampened an otherwise upbeat year for the fifth-seeded Current, who finished last in 2021 with a 3-14-7 record and just 15 goals scored. It went 10-6-6 this year for fifth place, then pulled off upsets in the playoffs on the Houston Dash and OL Reign (Seattle).

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Kansas City did it all year without their injured U.S. national team stalwarts, midfielder Sam Mewis and forward Lynn Williams.

The club sought to return to the glory of the city that once boasted NWSL founding member FC Kansas City, champions in 2014 and 2015. However, the club went out of business after the 2017 season. The players were transferred to the expansion Utah Royals, who were sold to the new Kansas City group after three years.

It didn’t take long for the Thorns on Saturday. Kansas City center Elizabeth Ball misplayed a pass from Portland’s Yazmeen Ryan, leaving it up to Smith to collect and pounce on goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.

Franch is a top keeper, but there was no doubt how this situation would end. Quick and confident in possession, Smith rounded Franch and slotted the ball into an open net for her 18th goal in 25 games in all competitions for the club.

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Two days earlier, the 22-year-old forward became the youngest MVP in league history.

Smith almost doubled the lead with a burst of brilliance in the 27th minute. She beat two defenders and parried two more before curling a 12-yard shot just wide of the far corner.

Thorns added the second goal in the 56th minute. Ryan crossed from the right-hand side and it was headed for Smith, who curled near the post. Smith, Franch and linebacker Addisyn Merrick converged. The ball flew past Smith, hit Franch, then Merrick and dribbled into the net for an own goal.

Franch made a sensational save in the 71st minute. Crystal Dunn, an American star who has returned to fitness after giving birth to her son in May, has signed up for the Thorns at No. 73.

Portland had no problem handling multiple threats from the Current. The countdown to the celebration has begun.

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For the foreseeable future, the league will continue to host the finals at a neutral site, commissioner Jessica Berman said.

Citing limited resources at league headquarters, she said, “Putting a marquee event on five days’ notice requires 10 floors of commercial office space in New York, and we have one.”

In addition to the game, the NWSL organizes additional events for fans and sponsors and needs to secure a hotel and event space.

The higher-seeded finalist hosted the finals for the first two years, but moved to pre-selected venues starting in 2015. Last year, 10,360 spectators attended the Washington Spirit’s 2-1 overtime victory over the Chicago Red Stars in Louisville. …

The NWSL will begin in 2023 as it did this year with the Challenge Cup, a pre-season tournament mandated by a major sponsor contract.

The Spirit is at least a month away from hiring a head coach, said people familiar with the search, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about the matter.

The club is expected to speak with Mark Parsons, who led the Spirit from July 2013 until the end of the 2015 campaign. He led Portland to the NWSL title in 2017 and most recently coached the Dutch national team.

As originally planned, interim Spirit coach Albertin Montoya has returned to Northern California, where he runs a youth club. Montoya replaced Kris Ward, who was fired in August amid a three-win season and deteriorating relations with players. …

The Spirit are scheduled to play six regular-season home games again next year at Audi Field and five at 5,000-seat Segra Field in Leesburg. He wants to play more in the city, but the contract with D.C. United — which owns both venues and leases space to the Spirit at its Leesburg training center — requires a split schedule.

Franch rejoins the American team

Franch, a member of the 2019 World Cup winning squad, will rejoin the national team for its two upcoming friendlies against Germany, according to people close to the situation. Her last performance in the US came last fall. He will replace Washington’s Aubrey Kingsbury at No. 3 on the depth chart. The list will be published soon. …

The US team plans to hold a January camp in New Zealand, people close to the situation said, and play two friendlies against the Football Ferns. New Zealand will co-host the World Cup with Australia next summer.

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