Midfielder Tobin Heath and forward Christine Sinclair registered a goal in each half as Portland Thorns FC defeated the Western New York Flash 2-0 to win the inaugural National Women's Soccer League Championship before 9,129 fans at Sahlen's Stadium on Saturday night.
Thorns FC, which earned the league's championship as the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, played the final 34 minutes with 10 players after rookie defender Kathryn Williamson was ejected following her second yellow card of the match for an off-the-ball foul on Western New York forward Abby Wambach.
After repelling several offensive attacks from the No. 1 seed Flash during the first half, Heath gave Portland a 1-0 lead minutes before the end of the half with a picturesque, bending free kick from nearly 25 yards away from goal. After a foul on Western New York, Heath and defender Marian Dougherty both set up over the ball for the free kick, and it was Heath who would deliver the go-ahead goal with her right foot. The goal was her second in consecutive matches for Thorns FC — she tallied the opening goal for Portland in a 3-2, comeback win over FC Kansas City on Aug. 24 in Overland Park, Kan., in the NWSL semifinals. Heath was named the Most Valuable Player of the NWSL Championship match for her performance against the Flash.
Heath was substituted out of the match shortly following Williamson's red card, but still finished with a team-high three shots.
Facing five minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second half, Sinclair provided the clinching goal after taking a pass from substitute forward Alex Morgan, who entered the match in the 71st minute. On the right side of the field, Morgan delivered a pass that Sinclair took in stride with space to run at Western New York goalkeeper Adrianna Franch — who was the regular-season league-leader in saves (98) and goals-against average (0.91). Sinclair slotted past Franch to the lower left corner providing a 2-0 lead in the second minute of second-half stoppage time. The 19 minutes of action for Morgan were her first since sustaining a sprained MCL in her knee on Aug. 7 against the Boston Breakers.
Sinclair finished with two shots on goal, as Thorns FC repelled a barrage of shots from the Flash during the second half. Western New York out shot Portland 18-9 in the match, including 10-2 in the second half as Thorns FC were down to 10 players. Portland are just the second team to beat Western New York at home this year and have recorded back-to-back shutouts against the Flash after a scoreless draw on Aug. 10 at Sahlen's Stadium.
Thorns FC goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc collected seven saves in earning the shutout, including several crucial stops in the first 45 minutes. LeBlanc kept the Flash off the board early in the match, parrying a header from Western New York forward Samantha Kerr onto the crossbar in the 12th minute. LeBlanc was able to corral a failed clearance attempt by the Thorns FC defense, ending the threat.
After Sinclair tested Franch with a header in the 22nd minute and defender Nikki Marshall missed just wide of the far right post three minutes later, LeBlanc came up with a save on Flash midfielder Carli Lloyd in the 27th minute. Wambach played the ball to Lloyd at the top of the box, and the midfielder's uncontested strike was smothered by the Canadian international LeBlanc.
Lloyd, who scored a brace in Western New York's 2-0 win over Sky Blue FC on Aug. 24, attempted a game-high eight shots, including four on goal. Wambach delivered three shots, although zero were on frame.
Just minutes before Heath's goal for Portland, Thorns FC forward Danielle Foxhoven found room behind the Western New York defense, but didn't have enough time to maneuver around Franch as she quickly came off her line to stop the attack.
In the second half, Lloyd tried her luck with a looping header in the 66th minute that was saved by LeBlanc and second-half substitute Vicki DiMartino saw a shot in the 79th minute flash past the far post as Portland absorbed the pressure before striking late in second-half stoppage time to seal the inaugural NWSL championship.
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