Last year’s loss in the semifinals to the NC Courage, formerly the Western New York Flash, was a driving force for the Thorns to become NWSL Champions. Both teams left their all on the pitch but a strike from Lindsey Horan in the second half sealed the fate of the Courage. However, questionable officiating may have many unsatisfied with the final outcome.
Emotions were expected to run high in the clash of these two physical teams. Two minutes into the match, a nasty take down by Tobin Heath resulted in the injury of Courage defender, Taylor Smith. Smith would be subbed out of the match shortly after returning to the pitch, obviously protective or her right shoulder. Surprisingly, Heath did not earn a yellow, although she did earn one in the 41st minute, that could’ve been her second. Playing a woman down against the Courage would’ve made it much more difficult to hold on to a one goal lead. Collectively, the Thorns earned all three yellow cards issued in the match. Thorn standout Lindsey Horan scored the only goal of the match by burying a rebounded free kick attempt in the 50th.
Despite the lack of calls working in the Courage’s favor, there were still enough opportunities to get on the board. The courage managed to take 16 shots, 5 of which Adrianna Franch did not have much trouble saving. Jessica McDonald was involved in the most opportune moments that the Courage had to put one in the net but was not able to convert. Lynn Williams worked endlessly to bring her team level on the scoreboard but her efforts were not enough for a well prepared Portland back-line.
Reflecting on their championship loss, Samantha Mewis stated, “ I think they capitalized on their set piece and we didn’t capitalize on any of ours. It’s a bummer. We worked on it a lot and we worked on defending a lot. I give them a lot of credit. They serve a great ball and have some great finishers”. McCall Zerboni also gave Portland credit during her post game interview “I thought we were the better team on the day but sometimes that experience and class finds the back of the net. That’s what playoff ball is all about!”
The courage have nothing to be ashamed of after earning the 2017 NWSL shield. “I thought it was a really gutty performance. You don’t always get your just rewards. We were a little bit unlucky in the end but we move on. There is no finish line for the group so we keep going” stated Coach Paul Riley.
Championship MVP, Horan chose to focus on the defense that helped earn the Thorns their second NWSL club title. “We were not going to allow them to score and you saw that from everyone on the field. I give credit to our back-line. Not even just this game but these last three or four games, they’ve been insane.”
Coach Mark Parsons shared similar thoughts as he expressed, “We’re proud of being a great attacking team even though we didn’t really get to show that today. We’re proud to be a good hardworking defensive team and that has won a championship.”
Now that redemption has been earned for the Thorns, they will be looking forward to defending their title next season. There is no question whether the Courage already have their sight on making it back to the NWSL final to gain some redemption of their own. As Samantha Mewis put it, “Next year, I think we’re going to be back with a vengeance. It starts now and I am ready to get prepared for next season already.”
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