We knew there would be goals in this game, but no one could have predicted the up and down nature that this National Women's Soccer League playoff semi-final between Portland Thorns FC and the Western New York Flash ended up producing.
Playing in front of a 20,000 plus crowd, the two teams provided great advertisement for the women's game and the NWSL as the Flash ran out 4-3 winners in extra time after a brace by Lynn Williams, who showed exactly why she's the 2016 NWSL Golden Boot winner, finished the game off.
Portland start the first half strongly
The home side wanted to win in front of their large crowd and started off the match with a determination to put the Flash under early pressure and get an early goal. The Flash for their part, were content to play their high pressure game and get at the Thorns in transition or through set pieces. An early mistake in the Flash back line allowed Christine Sinclair to pounce on the misplaced pass and slot Nadia Nadim through on goal. Samantha Mewis, who would go on to have an outstanding game, made a great recovering run from midfield to put in a tackle that blocked Nadim's shot on goal in the second minute of the game. The Thorns continued to apply a lot of pressure on the Flash goal and a series of corners and some shots from Sinclair and Lindsey Horan showed the intent that the Thorns had started with.
The Flash started to come into the game more after the first ten minutes, and they were most dangerous whenever they had a set piece. The first real chance of the game for them came in the tenth minute as a long throw by Jessica McDonald found Mewis who then nodded the ball on into the box. Williams was the first to the ball but she sent her shot over the crossbar. That should have signaled to the Thorns to make adjustments on long throws but they did not, and six minutes later they paid for it.
McDonald's long throws bring the goals to the game
The Flash got another long throw opportunity from McDonald and this time, they made the most of it. McDonald's delivery was not cleared initially by the Thorns and bounced around in the box before McCall Zerboni attempted to shoot. Her effort was blocked but the rebound found Mewis near the top of the 18-yard box and she half-volleyed it past goalkeeper Michelle Betos and into the near post.
Both teams continued to find gaps to exploit and good saves from Sabrina D'Angelo and Betos prevented the score line from changing until the 36th minute. In that time period of the game, Makenzy Doniak used her speed to get by Meghan Klingenberg and cut the ball back to Williams who was unmarked in the box. Williams took the shot first time and ended up hitting the crossbar when she should have scored. Two minutes later, the Flash picked up their second goal of the game. McDonald put the ball into the box again from a long throw which, after some interesting contact in the box, found Doniak at the far post and she made no mistake from that close to the goal.
The Thorns fight their way back into the game
The goals were not over and right from kick-off, Katherine Reynolds sent a long ball towards Sinclair. Alanna Kennedy misjudged her jump and Sinclair quickly turned her and fired off a fierce effort that went by the outstretched form of D'Angelo in goal. It was the perfect response from the Thorns and one they deserved. During the celebrations, WNY's head coach Paul Riley was removed from the bench by the referee Marco Vega who would also have a controversial game himself after missing some blatant fouls in the box on numerous occasions. The Flash managed to get into half-time with the lead but momentum had definitely shifted back to the Thorns.
In the second half Williams, Doniak and Zerboni could have put the game to bed for the Flash but a combination of Betos and the post prevented the Flash from extending their league. Portland took advantage of that and in the 78th minute, drew level with the Flash. A free-kick was sent in by Tobin Heath which D'Angelo came out for but completely missed. Sinclair then had her effort cleared off the line by Zerboni but Emily Sonnett was on hand to tuck away the rebound. The Thorns continued to push for a winner and substitute Dagny Brynjarsdottir must have thought she had found it in the 80th minute but D'Angelo made up for her gaffe earlier and produced a brilliant kick-save to keep the score at the 2-2.
Extra time brings three goals for the fans
Many would be forgiven for thinking that both teams would sit back and play out the next 30 minutes of extra time until they got to penalties, but the Flash had other ideas. After coming so close during the normal 90 minutes on many occasions, Williams finally got her goal in the 98th minute. Another McDonald long throw caused the Thorns all sorts of problems in what ended up being a theme of the night. Abby Erceg got her head to the ball and nodded it into the mixer where Williams reacted fastest to get to the ball and place it beyond a diving Betos. This meant that the Thorns had to react and they did almost immediately. Sinclair got the ball out wide and sent in a cross to Horan who took a touch before shooting towards goal. Her shot cannoned off the crossbar and the Flash were able to clear the ball.
A few minutes later, after another Portland attack, Mewis found the ball at her feet near midfield and proceeded to outpace Klingenberg as she got forward along with Williams and McDonald. Mewis then played a perfectly weighted ball to put Williams through on goal and Williams put the ball away coolly past Betos to put the Flash in the lead again. Just as in the first half, the Thorns reacted quickly to the goal and two minutes later, clawed one back in the 105th minute. Klingenberg got forward and put in a great cross that Brynjarsdottir got her head to and deflected into the path of Horan. Horan took one touch and this time, had no problems finishing into the roof of the net.
The Thorns did not give up and right at the death, almost found the goal to take the match to penalties. D'Angelo, who had had problems all night with not dealing with crosses well enough, came out and missed her punch. The ball was nodded towards goal by Horan and Abby Dahlkemper has to scramble back and clear off the line to prevent the goal. Not long after that, the final whistle blew and confirmed that the Flash would be facing the Washington Spirit in the NWSL Championship. With the loss tonight, Portland continued the "curse" of the NWSL Shield winners as in every season, the Shield winner has failed to win the NWSL Championship in the same year.