WASHINGTON – Sophia Smith and the Portland Thorns overcame adversity off the court this season to win a championship.
Smith, the season’s Most Valuable Player, scored early and the Thorns won their third National Women’s Soccer League title Saturday night with a 2-0 victory over the Kansas City Cranes.
The Thorns also won NWSL championships in 2013, the league’s inaugural season, and again in 2017. Those three titles are the most for any team in the league.
The Thorns were directly affected by the recent report that revealed the league’s rule-breaking, but the players said it brought them together.
“We have worked so hard for the whole season. We went through a lot of things that are not in the job description,” Smith said. “So it was very helpful. I’m so proud of our team because we’ve just been through so much — and to be able to give back to our fans who have been with us through everything this year means so much to us.”
Current had a costly loss before Smith came on, rounded goalkeeper Adriana Franch and slotted home a smart goal in the fourth minute.
Smith almost scored another goal in the 27th minute, but her shot went wide. Smith is the second MVP recipient to score in a championship game, joining Lynn Williams for North Carolina in 2016. At 22, she is also the youngest player to score in a league final.
Smith was named MVP earlier this week after scoring a club-record 14 goals in the regular season. She was also chosen as the MVP of the championship.
Kansas City’s Addisin Merrick doubled Portland’s lead in the 56th minute. A few minutes later, Morgan Weaver took a shot from distance, but Franch tackled it before it hit the bullpen and flew away.
“It hurts,” current coach Matt Potter said. “It’s just a moment to put it in the big picture. So obviously we have a lot of reasons to celebrate right now and this year that we can all look back on, maybe tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and be proud of that. I think , we’ve always said that our best days are ahead of us, not behind us.”
Audi Field was nearly sold out for the game, which was televised in prime time on the CBS network for the first time.
The NWSL was rocked this month by an investigation that revealed systematic abuse and misconduct spanning multiple teams, coaches and victims.
The investigation, led by former acting US Attorney General Sally Yates, was launched last year after two former players came forward with allegations of harassment and sexual assault against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.
Riley, who was fired, denied the allegations. He was one of five coaches in the league who were fired or resigned last year amid allegations of misconduct.
Yates’ report details how the Thorns mishandled complaints against Riley when he coached the team in 2014-15. As a result of the report, the Thorns fired two team executives. But some fans have called on owner Merritt Paulson to sell both the Thorns and Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers.
Some fans at Audi Field held a sign that read: “Support the players.”
“We’re a very close team off the field, and we knew those things were going to potentially derail us, so a lot of the conversations had to stay process-based,” Portland goalkeeper Bella Bixby said. “We know it’s going to be difficult for some people in the next few days, so if we can just come together and carry that burden with them, we can balance it out.”
The Spikes clinched the championship last Sunday with a 2-1 win over the San Diego Wave. Krystal Dunn scored the winner in stoppage time.
Current earned their place with a 2-0 win over top seeded OL Reign, surprising this season’s Supporters Shield winners.
The Current began play in 2021 as an expansion team, many of its players transferred from the defunct Utah Royals. They finished last in the league last season.
The Washington Spirit won last year’s NWSL Championship.
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