Portland Thorns FC claims inaugural NWSL Championship
Posted on 31 August 2013 in Around the Soccer World
Tobin Heath scored a sensational 25-yard, first-half strike before Christine Sinclair added a goal of her own in second-half stoppage time as Portland Thorns FC survived the final 34 minutes with 10 players to claim the inaugural National Women's Soccer League Championship with a 1:0 victory over the Western New York Flash Saturday night in front of 9,129 fans at Sahlen's Stadium.
Heath provided what proved to be the game-winning goal after she lined up a free kick in the 40th minute from more than 25 yards out and delivered a blistering right-footed shot that sailed over the Western New York wall and into the top left corner of Flash goalkeeper Adrianna Franch's net.
Heath's place in coach Cindy Parlow Cone's starting XI had been in slight doubt during the week leading up the 2013 NWSL Championship Game while she nursed a sore right foot that forced her to come off in the second half of the Thorns' semifinal victory over FC Kansas City seven days earlier.
The USA international also made an early exit from the final as she was subbed off in the 63rd minute and replaced by defender Tina Ellerton. Despite shortened evening, Heath was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2013 NWSL Championship Game.
Sinclair scored the Thorns' second goal of the night in second-half stoppage time to seal the win, but not before Portland was made to play the final 34 minutes with 10 players after defender Kat Williamson was sent off for a second yellow card in the 56th minute.
Forward Alex Morgan did not start for Portland, but did come on as a second-half substitute to play the final 19 minutes and assisted on Sinclair's injury-time goal.
The Flash created the first significant scoring opportunity of the game in the 12th minute, when Samantha Kerr looped a header on net that Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc was able to push onto the crossbar before eventually corralling the rebound.
The Canada international goalkeeper made seven saves in the game to earn the shutout after recording seven clean sheets during the regular season.
The Thorns responded in the 22nd minute with a move down the right flank as defender Marian Dougherty moved into space before curling a cross into the box that Sinclair lashed on frame with a strong header only to see Franch parry over the crossbar.
Both teams failed to capitalize on clear scoring chances less than three minutes later as Portland defender Tiffany Marshall pushed her shot wide from just outside the six-yard box after she was found unmarked at the far post by a free kick from Dougherty.
Less than 50 seconds after that, Flash midfielder and USA international Carli Lloyd had clear look at goal but struck her shot wide of the LeBlanc's far post.
The Thorns were nearly on the scoreboard in the 37th minute when Danielle Foxhoven was sent in clear on goal on a well weighted through ball from Dougherty. But the Portland forward was closed down by an onrushing Franch, who did well to control the ensuing rebound as well.
However, Portland would take the lead in the 40th minute courtesy of Heath's wonder-strike.
The score remained 1-0 in favor of the visitors through the 56th minute when the Thorns were reduce to 10 players after Williamson received her second yellow card when she was judged to have taken down Western New York forward and Abby Wambach just outside the Portland penalty area.
It was the second time in the span of nine second-half minutes Williamson had been carded for bringing down Wambach just outside the Thorns' box after she was ruled to have obstructed the USA international in the 48th minute as well.
Western New York piled on the pressure over the final 34 minutes - with Lloyd testing LeBlanc with a header in the in the 66th minute and second-half substitute Vicki DiMartino striking her shot in the 79th minute just past the far post - but the Flash were unable to find the back of the net as LeBlanc and her back line led by Rachel Buehler, Dougherty and Marshall held on to seal the inaugural NWSL Championship.
The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) is an eight-team Division-I women's professional soccer league featuring players from Canada, Mexico and USA. The eight founding clubs are the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, the Washington Spirit and the Western New York Flash.
Based in Chicago, the NWSL is supported by the United States Soccer Federation, Canadian Soccer Association and Federation of Mexican Football. For more information about the NWSL, log on to the league's official website at NWSLsoccer.com