WASHINGTON — It was a fun night to be a Portland Thorn.
Portland defeated the Kansas City Current, 2-0, to win the 2022 NWSL Championship at Audi Field. With the victory, Portland becomes the first NWSL team to win three titles (2013, 2017, 2022).
“Not every game is that fun,” said Sophia Smith, who got things going in the fourth minute. Smith, who was named regular season MVP two days ago, made the most of a one-vs-one against Kansas City goalkeeper AD Franch and celebrated with a meme-worthy shrug (video below).
Cool, calm, collected. 😮 @sophsssmith
The NWSL MVP puts @ThornsFC ahead in under four minutes. 😤 pic.twitter.com/DQ68NPAQgm
— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) October 30, 2022
At 22, Smith also became the youngest player to score in an NWSL final.
“She can stop pushing now and she’d still be a very good player, one of the best players this country’s produced,” Portland head coach Rhian Wilkinson said of Smith. “My job is to keep pushing her and to make sure she’s the best player this country’s ever produced because she has that in her right now.”
“That’s always been one of my goals,” Smith said of Wilkinson’s remarks on her potential. “Every coach that I’ve played for understands that. I make that very clear to them that I feel like I can be (the best player) but that I need to be pushed and I need to be held to high standards every single day. And she does a really good job of that.”
Portland sealed the win after a Kansas City own goal in the 56th minute (video below).
Everything is coming up roses 🌹 pic.twitter.com/bM1B6dBLxj
— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) October 30, 2022
Kansas City created a handful of opportunities midway through the second half, but wasn’t able to convert. On the other end of the field, Franch made a spectacular save (video below) to keep her team in it.
HUGE. SAVE. FROM. FRANCH. pic.twitter.com/Conz20T3a9
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 30, 2022
“We actually found our way into the game a little bit… but we lacked that kind of last piece,” said Kansas City head coach Matt Potter. “And then Portland showed why they’re Portland.”
Wilkinson cited the strength of her “leader-full” team. “We have incredible icons of the game on the field in Becky Sauerbrunn and Christine Sinclair… We knew Kansas’s very big threat was going to be transition and you could see (Sauerbrunn)’s leadership and how she was talking.”
Portland’s NWSL title win comes during a tumultuous time for the organization. The U.S. Soccer-commissioned Yates report, released on October 3, included damning evidence about how Portland’s front office failed to take action after former coach Paul Riley was accused of harassment and sexual coercion. Following the report’s release, President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson and President of Business Mike Golub, were fired. Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Timbers and Thorns, stepped down as CEO of both organizations. Fan groups and some players — as well as all three of Oregon’s gubernatorial candidates — have called for Paulson to sell both teams.
Kansas City — in its second season as an NWSL franchise — had a historic run just to reach Saturday night’s final. No NWSL team had ever reached the championship game after finishing last in the standings one season earlier.
“Obviously it hurts,” said Lo’eau LaBonta, citing the Kansas City fans who backed the team this season. “When we were FC KC, we played for each other… (Now) we’ve got the support of the entire city behind us.”
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC