For NWSL players, there’s work, play, and the things not in the job description

Portland Thorns player Morgan Weaver trains on an empty field
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Seventeen-year-old Olivia Moultrie, the soccer phenom who successfully sued for the right to play in the NWSL, uses the word “training” to describe the time she spends with her teammates and coaches.

“But my family likes to joke around and be like, ‘Hey, when are you leaving for work?’”

Thorns captain Christine Sinclair, who is 22 years older than Moultrie, sees things through a similar lens as her younger teammate’s family.

“Jokingly, I’m like, ‘I gotta go to work,’” the 10-year NWSL veteran explained. “Even though I don’t think I’ve worked a day in my life. I think we’re very fortunate to work (this job) because I mean, it’s the best job in the world.”

“It’s hard, changing it from ‘I have to train today’… But it’s actually my job now,” said Alex Loera, who just finished her rookie season with the Kansas City Current. “I have this epiphany every week that’s like, ‘Wow, I actually get to do what I love and get paid to play soccer.’ It’s incredible. I’m very thankful for that.”

This word choice — Is it training? Or is it work? — highlights the complexities of playing a game because you love it, and then having that game become your job.

“I don’t think it’s really set in that I finally made it to where I’m getting paid to play soccer,” said Kansas City rookie Jenna Winebrenner. “Soccer is what my life revolves around — for a really long time — but now I’m actually getting a paycheck that cashes to do it.”

Many NWSL players have spoken about how they have been expected to produce an elite product without access to basic resources or workplace protectionsall while being told to be grateful for the opportunity. Due to low salaries, many players have historically taken on second or third jobs, a fact the NWSLPA highlighted last year with its No More Side Hustles campaign.

The decision of players to unionize in 2018 and the signing of the NWSL’s first ever collective bargaining agreement earlier this year represent a shift, both in the resources available to players but also in how players view themselves.

“I think our union was the first step in creating more of a professional environment,” San Diego Wave and USWNT forward Alex Morgan said following the release of the U.S. Soccer-commissioned Yates report, which detailed how a lack of basic protections and infrastructure led to widespread abuse in the NWSL.

Added Morgan: “Listening (to), believing players, and putting players’ safety first was also a huge step this year that players really demanded by using their voices and sharing their stories.”

“We deserve an environment where we get to go out and play and enjoy doing what we do. And we deserve to be in an environment that protects that joy,” said OL Reign and USWNT defender Alana Cook after publication of the Yates report. “We’ve been the ones arguing for protection and guardrails and safeguards for the entire time.”

The NWSL minimum salary is still low ($35,000 in 2022), though each player is also provided with either housing or a stipend. This year’s landmark CBA also included requirements for playing field conditions, standards for team medical staff, and paid mental health leave.

Crystal Dunn, who gave birth to son Marcel in May and returned to NWSL competition just five months later, said thinking of herself as a “working mom” didn’t happen automatically.

“As athletes, we don’t sometimes put ourselves in the same boat as women who don’t play sports. I think it’s important that we realize like, ‘No, our job is to play soccer, but it’s work.’ I’m a working mom. I have to leave my baby at home in good care, but I have to leave him to go work,” Dunn explained.

Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby said she typically uses the word “training” to describe what she does. “But if someone needs something from me, (I’ll say), ‘I’m working from here to here.’ It’s not just two hours out of the day, like I’m working this amount of time. Training is in there, but it’s not just training — I’m at work.”

Many players also shared the enormous amount of emotional labor they’ve expended as a result of the abuse and misconduct itself, as well as burden of being asked continually about the investigations and reports.

“These women and the women of the NWSL are frequently asked to be spokespeople for major events,” Portland Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson said in her first media availability after the Yates report was released.  “And it takes a toll. And people don’t recognize that.”

“For me personally, soccer was like an escape from all the things going on,” Sophia Smith said after leading Portland to the 2022 NWSL title.

The 2022 MVP added: “We’ve gone through a lot of stuff that isn’t in the job description.”

On Her Turf writer Lisa Antonucci contributed to this report. 

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Portland Thorns win 2022 NWSL Championship, MVP Smith scores game winner

Sophia Smith shrugs after scoring a goal
Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

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).

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).

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.

“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.”

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2022 NWSL Championship: Portland Thorns vs. Kansas City preview, how to watch, history

Splitscreen of Portland Thorns player Sophia Smith on the left and Kansas City player Desiree Scott on the right
Craig Mitchelldyer and Amy Kontras - USA Today Sports

WASHINGTON, DC — The Portland Thorns and Kansas City Current meet tonight in the 2022 NWSL Championship. Audi Field — home of the Washington Spirit — is hosting this year’s NWSL Final. See below for a preview of the game, details on how to watch, NWSL Championship history, and what’s at stake for both teams.

RECAP: Portland wins 2022 NWSL Championship, MVP Smith scores game winner

How to watch the 2022 NWSL Championship

For the first time ever, the 2022 NWSL Championship will air in primetime on network TV. Kickoff is set for 8pm ET on CBS. Fans can also livestream the game on Paramount+.

Portland Thorns – Starting XI

  • Bella Bixby
  • Meghan Klingenberg
  • Becky Sauerbrunn
  • Kelli Hubly
  • Natalia Kuikka
  • Sam Coffey
  • Rocky Rodriguez
  • Christine SInclair
  • Morgan Weaver
  • Yazmeen Ryan
  • Sophia Smith

Kansas City Current – Starting XI

  • Kristen Edmonds
  • Hailie Mace
  • Cece Kizer
  • Elizabeth Ball
  • Kate del Fava
  • Lo’eau LaBonta
  • Desiree Scott
  • AD Franch
  • Alex Loera
  • Kristen Hamilton
  • Addisyn Merrick

Portland Thorns vs. Kansas City Current – Results during 2022 NWSL season

The Portland Thorns and Kansas City Current met twice in the regular season. Portland won the first game — the regular-season opener — 3-0, while the two teams drew 1-1 in their most recent meeting (September 18).

“We are a different team now than we were then,” Kansas City defender Alex Loera told On Her Turf. “I think the whole group is just like, ‘Why not us? Why can’t we be the ones to win it all? We’re here.’ I think everyone knows we have such a great opportunity in front of us.”

How Portland and Kansas City reached the NWSL Final

Portland Thorns: While Portland just missed out on the NWSL Shield, the team earned a bye to the NWSL Semifinals as the No. 2 seed. The Thorns qualified for the NWSL Final by winning last week’s semifinal against the San Diego Wave, 2-1, with Crystal Dunn scoring the game-winner in stoppage time.

Kansas City Current: After finishing last in 2021, Kansas City had a slow start to the 2022 regular season, going winless in their first five games. They then went on a 13-game undefeated streak, the second-longest in NWSL history, and qualified for the NWSL Playoffs as the No. 5 seed.

To reach the NWSL Final, Kansas City had to win back-to-back away games. In the quarterfinal round, the Current defeated the Houston Dash, 2-1, with a thrilling stoppage time goal from Kate del Fava. They extended their historic playoff run with a 2-0 semifinal win vs. the OL Reign, with Alex Loera and Kristen Hamilton tallying goals.

RELATED: Kansas City Current bought in to reach 2022 NWSL Championship

NWSL Championship – History on the line

Portland Thorns:

  • Just by being here, the Portland Thorns are the first team in league history to qualify for four NWSL Championships.
  • If the Thorns win, they’ll make more history as the first NWSL team to claim three titles, having previously won in 2013 and 2017.
  • Still, it is Portland’s first championship appearance since 2018, when they lost 3-0 to a North Carolina Courage team that included Crystal Dunn.

Kansas City Current:

  • In their second season as a franchise, the Kansas City Current qualified for their first ever NWSL playoff appearance — and made it all the way to the Championship game. Pretty remarkable when you remember that the Current finished last in the 10-team NWSL table in 2021.
  • No NWSL team has ever reached the championship — let alone win it — after finishing last in the standings one season earlier.
  • Kansas City is also the lowest-ever seed (#5) to make the NWSL Championship (though the NWSL tournament only expanded from four to six seeds last year).

MORE NWSL COVERAGE: The Kansas City Current bought in to reach 2022 NWSL Championship

NWSL Championship History

  • 2013: Portland Thorns (defeated Western New York Flash, 2-0)
  • 2014: FC Kansas City (defeated Seattle Reign, 2-1)
  • 2015: FC Kansas City (defeated Seattle Reign, 1-0)
  • 2016: Western New York Flash (defeated Washington Spirit on penalties)
  • 2017: Portland Thorns (defeated North Carolina Courage, 1-0)
  • 2018: North Carolina Courage (defeated Portland Thorns, 3-0)
  • 2019: North Carolina Courage (defeated Chicago Red Stars, 4-0)
  • 2020: Not played due to Covid-19, Challenge Cup/Fall Series played instead
  • 2021: Washington Spirit (defeated Chicago Red Stars in extra time, 2-1)
  • 2022: ??

What they’re saying ahead of the NWSL Final

Christine Sinclair on why this year’s Portland Thorns team was able to reach this point:

“I think we headed to every year expecting to play in this (NWSL Championship) game tomorrow, expecting to be challenging for the Shield. But the thing about this team is — those young players that have come in, whether they’re rookies, whether it’s their second or third year — they’ve had such an impact on this team and have a unique combination of experience and youth. It’s a joy to go to work every day and be around this team and how tight we have become over the course of the season. It’s an exciting group and definitely one of the most talented ones I’ve ever been a part of, but we have one more game to go.”

Kansas City defender Kristen Edmonds on when she knew the team had something special:

“In preseason, I kept saying, ‘Something feels different’… We went to Florida for a month and within the first couple days, I just had this feeling, for me, something’s very different about this season.”

Becky Sauerbrunn on Portland’s mentality heading into tonight’s game:

“I think when you go into a championship match, everything’s so heightened and there’s so many extra things that are happening around the squad. As a veteran player, it’s kind of (my job) to bring us back to play soccer. We all know how to do this job. We’ve been doing it all season and obviously we’ve done it well enough to get to this point.”

Kansas City captain Desiree Scott on how the team rebounded from finishing last in 2021 to reach the 2022 NWSL Final:

“Obviously, coming off a not-so-great season previously, I think a lot of people wouldn’t have thought that we could get here. But as the season continued… I think that belief continued to grow with our winning streaks happening, just the way we were playing … We thought we can get here and here we are.”

Christine Sinclair on what it means for this year’s NWSL Final to air during primetime on a major network:

“We’ve both been fortunate to play in some pretty big games in our careers and this added exposure is exactly what the women’s game needs… I was fortunate to play in the first championship game and I think — outside of the people in Portland — no one knew that the game was happening. So I’d say it’s what this league, it’s what us as players deserve. This, women’s sports, in general, all they need is a chance. People will watch, people will come if given the opportunity to do so. For this game to be on primetime — on a major network — it’s just going to continue to grow the game to continue to inspire those youngsters watching. I’m a firm believer that young kids need to be able to see to believe that it can happen.”

RELATED: Sam Coffey on NWSL rookie season, USWNT debut and Yates report takeaways

Availability Report for the NWSL Final

Kansas City Current

  • Out: Jaycie Johnson (right leg), Claire Lavogez (right leg), Sam Mewis (SEI – right leg), Lynn Williams (SEI – right leg), Mallory Weber (SEI – right leg)
  • Questionable: Cece Kizer (concussion)
  • International Duty: None

Portland Thorns

  • Out: None
  • Questionable: None
  • International Duty: None

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