The Portland Thorns are National Women’s Soccer League champions for a record third time after winning 2-0 over the Kansas City Current before a near-sellout crowd of 17,624 at Audi Field in the nation’s capital on Saturday night.
The brace of goals came from burgeoning US star Sophia Smith and an own goal early in both halves. And while the threats from the west coach giants were varied and relentless – overshadowing any from middle-America surprise package Kansas City – the start, middle and end of the momentous match were marked in particular by Smith. It was a fitting end to a season notable for just the same. The 22-year-old newly minted NWSL Most Valuable Player – the youngest in the 10-year-old league’s history – made her mark early with a fourth-minute goal on a match that would prove notable for her performance above all else.
The first half saw few opportunities for Kansas City to rectify the almost-immediate deficit. Smith’s quick strike buried any groundswell Current may have otherwise counted on, shifting the advantage Kansas City gained in their other playoff runouts and putting them on a back foot from which they never recovered.
Smith’s goal, poached from a defensive mistake, was also the first of a remarkably few shots taken by either side throughout the half. It was an opportunity well earned by Smith’s renowned and relentless press and added another accolade to her growing résumé: youngest player to score in a NWSL final.
While the Thorns’ attack was defined by Smith, the No 1 overall pick in the 2020 NWSL draft was complemented in momentum by the varied contributions of Morgan Weaver, Yazmeen Ryan and midfielders from Sam Coffey to Christine Sinclair moving forward.
Defensively, the Current’s otherwise dangerous counter-attack was stymied into silence by the likes of Becky Sauerbrunn and her disciplined backline. Kansas City did mount a number of opportunities, though nothing substantial enough to penetrate a formidable and organized defense with Bella Bibxy waiting to collect everything else just behind.
Both squads left the field after 45 minutes of back-and-forth aggression resulting in few chances, with only the Thorns registering in meaningful opportunities.
Carrying forward a theme for the evening, the second half opened with Smith bringing the ball forward and looking dangerous on the dribble. She nearly added a second shortly after the intermission that mirrored her first. That attempt was thwarted, but it wouldn’t be long before the Thorns found goal number two, thanks in large part – unfortunately once more – to a defensive error by Kansas City. The own goal came from a melee in front of the net, where the keeper AD Franch was unable to stop the ball from sliding past the line.
Kansas City never mounted their full capacity in attack or looked fully dangerous in response, but they were commendably strong defending down the flanks, with strong performances from Hailie Mace and Kate Del Fava in particular. Franch – whose incredible prowess in the net played a large part in the Current’s arrival to this moment – came up big a handful of times, keeping Thorns from running an even more lopsided final margin.
The sharp upward trajectory of the Current, who reached the final in only their second season following a last-place finish in their first, remains promising. But nothing they could offer was enough to keep Portland from adding a third league title to previous wins in 2013 and 2017, making them the most decorated side in the NWSL’s decade-long history.