That'll do it! The Portland Thorns defeat the North Carolina Courage 1-0 in the most physical championship game so far in the league's history. The Courage lost two key players to injury (Smith, Hamilton) in the first half that changed the dynamic for the Courage. A goal by Linsey Horan in the 50th minute gives the Thorns the victory. Thank you for following along here on VAVEL USA! This has been Cindy Lara. Until next time!
The Portland Thorns become the second club in the NWSL to win another championship. Their first title was in 2013. FC Kansas City is the only other club to win two NWSL championships (2014, 2015).
FULL-TIME! The Portland Thorns have won the 2017 NWSL Championship! Horan with the only goal in the 50th minute to win it for the Thorns.
94' - We've reached the 94th minute with extra added time. Any time now, with perhaps another minute to go.
92' - One more substitution for the Thorns: Allie Long in for Henry, who has played her final game as a Thorn. Henry will return to France.
91' - Franch with another save off the post as Courage try to make it 1-1 and push extra time.
90' - Four minutes added to the game. Four minutes for the Courage to equalize. Four minutes away from a championship for the Thorns.
Time winding down. North Carolina continues to press, but Portland is too organized in the box to stop the Courage's chances.
86' - Substitution for the Courage that was not injury-related: Stephanie Ochs for O'Sullivan.
82' - North Carolina with a long ball to McDonald to break away for an opportunity, but Emily Menges for the stop to block her shot.
81' - Handball called against North Carolina. Portland again with a dangerous set piece. Heath to take the kick. It's cleared away.
79' - Mewis with the shot, but Franch is in position in front of the goal.
77' - Heath returns to the field.
8,124 fans in attendance today in Orlando for the NWSL Championship.
74' - Heath is down after a foul by Williams. She seems to be in pain on the field.
73' - Courage get free kick after O'Sullivan is clipped. A short serve to Mewis, who tries to take a shot, but Portland blocks it.
71' - A dangerous serve into the box from Doniak. Franch jumps for the save as McDonald heads the ball out of her hands.
69' - Portland makes another change, their second of the game: Nadia Nadim in for Raso.
67' - North Carolina Courage pushing into the final third, but Portland's defense with another interruption not to allow any chance, especially for Williams to get into the right position for a shot on target.
58' - Corner kick for North Carolina as Williams misses an opportunity.
53' - A change for Portland: Dagny Brynjarsdottir for Sykes.
52' - North Carolina now with the set piece now, but it goes over the crossbar.
50' - GOAL! PORTLAND! On the set piece, Horan is left unmarked and as the ball bounces in the box, Horan sends it into the goal. 1-0, Portland.
47' - McDonald with a long throw in into the box. The ball bounces before Franch picks it up.
46' - And we are back! The second half is underway.
Halftime! A physical first half with Portland appearing as if their game plan is to take out every Courage player. North Carolina has had more opportunities and shots on goals. Score remains scoreless.
48' - Doniak with a hard tackle on Heath. This game has completely turned physical.
Four minutes of extra time have been added.
41' - Heath is shown a yellow.
39' - North Carolina is forced to make another substitution due to an injury. Jess McDonald in for Hamilton.
36' - Kristen Hamilton is down. Tobin Heath seems to be playing a very physical game.
35' - Denise O'Sullivan with a shot from the top of the box. Franch saves it, however.
33' - Williams with a shot, but it goes wide.
30' - Half hour mark now. Not many chances for both teams. It's been a physical match thus far.
28' - Back and forth between the teams. North Carolina finds Lynn Williams on the run, but Portland's defense gets in the way of a breakaway.
23' - Portland again threatening in the box, but Katelyn Rowland scoops it up for the Courage.
22' - Hayley Raso on the flank tries to send it across but finds no one.
20' - First corner for the Courage. Dahlkemper's serve does not result in a shot.
16' - Lindsey Horan with an American football-like tackle to McCall Zerboni in the North Carolina box.
14' - Mewis with a long shot! It hits the top of the crossbar as it goes over Adrianna Franch's head. Lucky for Portland, or else that is a goal.
12' - Substitution for the Courage: Makenzy Doniak for Smith.
11'- Smith goes to the sideline again. That shoulder injury will, unfortunately, sideline Smith for the game.
8' - Courage with a near chance as Sam Mewis sends the ball to Hatch in the box, but Portland defends well. Reynolds clears it away.
6' - Smith returns to the field! The Courage is at full strength again.
North Carolina is playing with 10 players as Smith receives treatment on the sideline. Losing Smith could be huge for North Carolina.
2' - Taylor Smith is down for North Carolina, favoring her shoulder, after a takedown by Tobin Heath.
Kickoff is underway!
North Carolina Courage Starting XI: Katelyn Rowland (GK); Jaelene Hinkle; Abby Erceg (C); Abby Dahlkemper; Taylor Smith; Denise O'Sullivan; McCall Zerboni; Sam Mewis; Kristen Hamilton (C); Ashley Hatch; Lynn Williams.
Portland Thorns Starting XI: Adrianna Franch (GK); Emily Sonnett; Katherine Reynolds; Emily Menges, Amandine Henry, Meghan Klingenberg, Lindsey Horan, Ashleigh Sykes, Christine Sinclair (C), Tobin Heath, Hayley Raso.
It's Championship Game Day! One team, either the North Carolina Courage or the Portland Thorns, will lift the trophy today.
Thorns versus Courage History:
The NWSL Championship will mark the third meeting of 2017 between the Courage and the Thorns, each winning 1-0 in their first two matches, respectively at home.
It is the 2016 NWSL semifinal in Portland a year ago, however, that carries the most meaning for both clubs. Back then, the Courage were the Western New York Flash before relocating to North Carolina in early 2017, but the majority of its core players like Katelyn Rowland, Sam Mewis, Abby Erceg, McCall Zerboni, Lynn Williams, Taylor Smith, Abby Dahlkemper, Jessica McDonald, Jaelene Hinkle along with head coach Paul Riley, names that have become household names in the NWSL and national team picture, were a part of that championship-winning Flash team. This same Courage team, that many wore the black and yellow in Providence Park in October 2016, is the very same group of core players that will face the Portland Thorns for the NWSL Championship. And that semi-final game will very much be on the minds of the Thorns players, who experienced the agony of a 4-3 defeat in extra time on their home field one year ago that ended their 2016 season.
How North Carolina Reached the Championship:
The North Carolina Courage finished the regular season with a 16-7-1 record, first in the NWSL, and clinched a playoff berth on August 30th with a 3-2 win against the Washington Spirit. The Courage became the first team this season to secure a spot in the playoffs and to gain home-field advantage. On September 27th, the Courage earned the NWSL Shield after a 4-0 victory against the Houston Dash. They're also the first team since the 2014 Seattle Reign to win 16 regular season games. North Carolina saw their biggest crowd of 10,017 fans in the semifinal game against the Chicago Red Stars, whom they defeated on an 89th-minute goal to face the Thorns. The Courage won the NWSL Championship last year as the Western New York Flash.
How Portland Reached the Championship:
The Portland Thorns finished the regular season with a 14-5-5 record, second in the NWSL and clinched a playoff berth on Week 19 with their 4-0 shutout against the Washington Spirit and an FC Kansas City win over Sky Blue FC. The Thorns became the second team this season to secure a spot in the playoffs. The following week, Portland secured a home playoff game after battling the Boston Breakers to a 1-0 victory to bring a playoff game to Providence Park where they were 10-1-1 for the season.
In the semifinals, the Thorns defeated the Orlando Pride 4-1 in an exciting match for Portland in front of over 18,000 fans. The Thorns have an opportunity to win their second NWSL Championship after winning the title in the inaugural season in 2013.
Welcome to VAVEL USA’s LIVE coverage of the 2017 NWSL Championship between the Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage. My name is Cindy Lara, and I’ll be your host for this game. We will provide you with pre-game analysis, roster updates, and news as it happens here on VAVEL. This game will be live on Lifetime with coverage beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET from Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Florida.