Thorns FC are the champions, my friend.
But it wasn’t easy. Any more than anything about this season has been easy.
Our Girls in Red had to wrestle the NWSL crown from the Western New York Flash at Rochester, where the home side seemed angry about the whole business of actually having to, y’know, “play hard to win”.
If there was anything representative of WNY’s attitude it was Mary Abigail Wambach rising from the ground with her arms up appealing for a foul. Wambach has a reputation for a player that works the referee and Saturday evening she played like an aged grannie, falling over every time a white jersey came close to her and then crying about it.
And it worked, too; she managed to hang a second yellow on Kat Williamson for a dive so blatant that even Kate Markgraf for Fox Sports “The Ocho” couldn’t ignore it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Both teams came out looking for chances and making them, perhaps the most dangerous a 12th minute Samatha Kerr header that Karina LeBlanc could do no better than parry off the crossbar; luckily for Thorns FC The Wall scrambled to her feet to grab a looping “clearance” from one of her own defenders that was headed back into the goal. The teams traded attacks during the first half hour that were either just off-target or absorbed by LeBlanc and her WNY counterpart Franch.
Markgraf’s pre-match prediction of a midfield battle was wrong. The Thorns tried to boot the ball up to Christine Sinclair through the first half while the midfield was fairly well dominated by WNY. But Portland’s backline and particularly Allie Long as DM worked tirelessly and effectively to deny Wambach service while Williamson shut the national team striker down. The big forward responded with a positively Olympic repertoire of dives with a running commentary of whines and appeals to the referee. Neither side found an effective strike until late in the first half.
Tobin Heath broke the game open for Thorns FC in the 40th minute. She calmly lined up over a free kick 25 yards from the right side of WNY’s goal with the intent to slot the ball home – she said later that several of her teammates including Christine Sinclair asked her what they could do on the kick and she told them to stand in the wall and look pretty – and she did, hitting a rocket that went just under the crossbar.
The teams went off at the half with Portland holding what felt like a very precarious one-goal lead.
The second half opened much like the first until finally Wambach’s constant whining and flopping worked; she earned Williamson the distinction of being the first ever Thorn sent off, in the 56th minute.
Of the championship match.
Clinging to a one-nil lead.
The final 34 minutes and the five minutes of stoppage time saw Thorns FC do what I have never seen them do all season; defend desperately and well, play like women inspired. You hear a lot about heroics in sports, often for what is little more than a sharp eye, strong muscles, and quick reflexes.
This was genuinely heroic.
Western New York attacked and attacked – 10 of their 18 shots came in the second half – with increasing ferocity. Although Wambach never did manage to be a factor – she ended with four shots, none on goal – Carli Lloyd and the Flash pressed hard for the equalizer. As they did the Thorns scrambled and fought and Coach Parlow Cone began to substitute on defenders; Ellertson for Heath at 63′, Wetzel for Kerr at 80′.
And, interestingly, Alex Morgan for Foxhoven at 71′.
It was that substitution that turned out to be decisive, as Morgan slipped a lovely cross-field pass to Christine Sinclair running in on goal in stoppage time. Christine waited for Franch to commit and slipped the ball past her into the open goal to seal the match for Portland.
Portland has it’s first major league sports title since 1977.
Thorns FC saved the best it has for last two matches; 180+ minutes of tough, smart, cohesive soccer, the soccer we all dreamed they could play, the soccer of champions.
It’s hard to express how contented I feel writing these words, after the trials and troubles I’ve written about this season, after all the worries and derps and what-ifs and why-nots.
It’s hard to express how sweet the moment was when the final whistle blew, the Thorns raced across the field to embrace each other, the screen flashed the sign “2013 NWSL Champions: Portland Thorns FC“, and the crowd at Bazi Bierbrasserie stood up and roared.
But trust me; it was a sweetly contented moment.
So; we did what the song claimed we were gonna do – we won the league…this year!
I hope you’ve enjoyed following our Thorns with me this season, and I hope to meet you here again next season.
To rejoin Portland Thorns FC.
The 2013 NWSL Champions