Portland Thorns take 2017 NWSL Championship in Orlando

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2017 National Women's Soccer League Championship - Portland Thorns 1 North Carolina Courage 0, Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida - 14th October 2017 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

Portland Thorns beat the North Carolina Courage, 1-0, on Saturday at Orlando City Soccer Stadium to win the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League championship.

It was a second title for the Thorns, who also won the N.W.S.L.’s inaugural championship in 2013. Last season, the Thorns were on the wrong side of a 4-3 score line facing the same opponents, then the New York Flash, in a semifinal match at Providence Park.

2017 National Women's Soccer League Championship - Portland Thorns 1 North Carolina Courage 0, Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida - 14th October 2017 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

This time the game was anything but an enjoyable feast of attractive soccer.  A crowd of 8,124 saw a game that was physical from the start to the finish and it took just 90 seconds for Portland’s Tobin Heath to rugby tackle Courage right back Taylor Smith (pictured above), causing an injury to what looked like Smith’s collar bone. Heath walked away without a card of any description and that seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game as referee Danielle Chesky seemed keen to turn a blind eye to even the most dangerous assault. The 23 year old defender tried to grit out the pain, but it proved too much and she was subbed out after just 12 minutes.

“I’m surprised Portland played that way in the first half – it’s not that type of team,” Courage coach Paul Riley said. “I’d rather see the players play than kick people, but they chose the latter.”

The first opportunity of the game arrived in the 14th minute when Courage midfielder Samantha Mewis spotted Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch off her line. Mewis executed a superb strike from the centre circle and was extremely unfortunate to see her effort bounce off the crossbar and back into play for the fortunate keeper to claim.

2017 National Women's Soccer League Championship - Portland Thorns 1 North Carolina Courage 0, Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida - 14th October 2017 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

In the 15th minute a cynical foul by Lindsey Horan on McCall Zerboni (pictured above) also escaped Chesky’s attention and just when North Carolina started to get into stride they suffered another injury in the 36th minute as Kristen Hamilton was forced off after another challenge by Heath.

“They got into us, and that looked like it was their game plan, and unfortunately it did knock us out of our rhythm,” Riley said.

Finally, in the 41st minute, the first yellow card of the match was awarded to Heath after another untidy challenge and just seconds seconds later Thorns Forward Hayley Raso was fortunate to escape a card for an untidy foul on Zerboni. As the game entered the first of four minutes of stoppage time, Raso did collect a yellow for a wild tackle on Makenzy Doniak that might well have warranted a red card instead.

A minute later Zerboni left her mark on Raso as she left her foot in on a challenge that saw her win the ball first. In another game that might also have been a red card.

2017 National Women's Soccer League Championship - Portland Thorns 1 North Carolina Courage 0, Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida - 14th October 2017 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

Seconds later it was Doniak’s turn to get in on the action as she tackled Heath from behind. Another tackle that apparently didn’t warrant a yellow card.

Thankfully half time was then reached without further confrontation as zero knock out’s and zero submissions were recorded on the battlefield.

Half Time: Portland 0 North Carolina 0

The second half started in a more positive fashion as Lynn Williams got behind the Thorns defence in the 47th minute and she forced a fingertip save from Franch that rebounded to a wide-open Jessica McDonald who promptly whiffed on the shot when set to tap home.

2017 National Women's Soccer League Championship - Portland Thorns 1 North Carolina Courage 0, Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida - 14th October 2017 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

Three minutes later Portland made the Courage pay for their miss. A long free kick from just inside the North Carolina half by Thorn’s Emily Sonnett saw the Courage defender’s Abby Dahlkemper and Jaelene Hinkle make a mess of things and the ball fell kindly to a wide-open Horan who blasted home with a right foot volley from six yards to give Katelyn Rowland no chance.

The rough and tumble continued and in the 53rd minute Portland’s Amandine Henry fouled Williams who ended up falling into Raso injuring the Thorn forward temporarily. Mewis then took the free kick but blasted high above the bar from around 30 yards.

North Carolina continued to push for an equalizer as the Thorns seemed content to sit back and soak up the pressure. The Thorns defended well as they frustrated the Courage attack and a crucial intervention was made by Emily Menges in the 82nd minute just as it looked for certain that Williams would level things up. A long ball over the top by Mewis found Williams goal side of Menges and just as she lined up her shot, the 25 year old defender somehow got back to block the goal bound shot.

2017 National Women's Soccer League Championship - Portland Thorns 1 North Carolina Courage 0, Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida - 14th October 2017 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

The Courage huffed and puffed but there was no way past Franch and finally the final whistle blew giving The Thorns a second Championship and denying the Courage who failed to become the first NWSL team ever to record the best regular-season record and win the championship. It has never happened in the league’s five-history.

“Maybe the most beautiful ugly game I’ve ever been a part of,” a jubilant Portland Head coach Mark Parsons said of the physical and intense competition. “But we won and I’m glad that’s over.”

More photos at www.FloridaLeisurePhotography.com

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