The Portland Thorns ground out a hard-fought 1-0 victory against the North Carolina Courage to take home the NWSL Cup today, beating the league leading side and taking revenge for their semifinal loss last year.
With a trophy on the line, the Thorns and Courage both came out looking to defend, defend, and defend, playing a physical match where chances were few and far between.
Neither team looked likely to break through in the first half as their midfields battled for possession. Most of the match was played in the Thorns half as Portland dropped back and let their league-best back six break up any forays forward from the Courage. North Carolina, meanwhile, put constant pressure on the Thorns, never allowing their opponents to get comfortable on the ball.
The defensive duel saw both sides go hard after the ball in the first half and the Courage suffered for it. Forced into two early substitutions, the Courage lost both Taylor Smith and Kristen Hamilton to injury in the first half before stepping up their own hard tackling as the match went on.
The Courage did come close to opening the scoring once in the first half on a near-miracle shot from midfielder Samantha Mewis in the 14th minute. Near the halfway line, Mewis hit a long range bomb that caught Thorns keeper AD Franch off her line and nearly dropped in over the NWSL Keeper of the Year contender, but instead pinged off the cross bar, letting Thorns fans breath a deep sigh of relief.
While the Thorns looked for their typical quick counter attack, it was the Courage who had the two next best chances of the first half when first Jessica Williams broke on the Thorns goal in the 34th minute, putting a chipped shot wide. Then in the 35th minute, Denise O’Sullivan hit a hard, dipping volley on goal only for Franch to get down and make a strong save, holding on to the ball as Courage players converged on her.
The North Carolina pressure continued into the second half as a low shot from Lynn Williams forced Franch into a diving save in the 47th minute. Williams was on hand for a shot off the rebound, but whiffed her chance and the Thorns were able to clear.
The Courage would be left rueing that missed opportunity minutes later when Emily Sonnett served a long free kick into the North Carolina box. Sonnett’s long ball bounced through traffic, narrowly missing the head of Amandine Henry before falling to NWSL Second Team Best XI midfielder Lindsey Horan. Alone at the back post, Horan lined up a powerful volley, blasting the ball past Courage keeper Katelyn Rowland from point-blank range and giving the Thorns a 1-0 lead.
With the scoring open, both sides settled in to play some soccer and the chances began to flow. The Thorns managed a series of half chances twenty minutes into the half as Nadia Nadim put Rowland under pressure and only a handful of clutch saves and blocks kept the Thorns from their second of the match. North Carolina put on pressure of their own, but timely and consistent interventions from Franch kept the Courage from threatening.
As the final ten minutes ticked down, the Courage were able to work the ball into the Thorns box through the strong hold up play of McDonald only for the suffocating defending of the Thorn to shut them down. A close-in block from Emily Menges on McDonald in the 81st minute kept the Thorns ahead and provided brief relief from the constant Courage attack.
The relief was enough, however, as the Thorns saw out six minutes of stoppage time, shutting down the Courage and seeing out the 1-0 win to add a second star to their crest.