Thorns reach NWSL finals
After coming up short three years in a row, the Portland Thorns are going back to the National Women's Soccer League championship match.
Portland scored two quick goals, then withstood plenty of pressure from the Orlando Pride before finishing off their semifinal win with two late goals and a 4-1 win on Saturday in front of 18,193 fans at lively Providence Park.
Portland will play for the NWSL championship at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Orlando City Stadium against the winner of Sunday's semifinal between North Carolina and Chicago.
Amandine Henry, Emily Sonnett, Hayley Raso and Christine Sinclair scored the goals as the Thorns overcame the cloud of last season's semifinal loss to reach the championship match.
Portland is 2-2 in semifinal playoff matches and will shoot for the club's second NWSL title next weekend.
"A very disciplined performance," Thorns coach Mark Parsons said. "We had momentum, we grabbed goals. (When) they had momentum, we were focused, we were patient, we were hard working. Sometimes we were a bit heroic in making some late challenges.
"What a group and team effort that was."
Saturday's semifinal started about as well as the Thorns could have hoped. Portland scored two beautiful goals in the first 15 minutes.
The first goal was scored by Henry in the 12th minute. Her well-timed run to the far post met Meghan Klingenberg's in-bending cross, beating Orlando goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris to the ball with her right foot.
Henry called it "a perfect cross" from Klingenberg.
That chance started with Tobin Heath winning a second ball and flicking it to Sinclair, who did a nice job of controlling the ball and switching it to Klingenberg on the left. Klingenberg feinted a run up the wing and cut back onto her right foot to deliver a wicked cross.
Three minutes later Sonnett made the score 2-0. On a free kick taken by Heath, Sonnett shook free of her defender on a near-post run and headed the ball past Harris.
"They were just slacking off a bit on the run, and I caught an opening and Tobin put in a great ball," Sonnett said. It was her fifth career goal and fourth this season for the center back.
But the lead was quickly halved. In the 23rd minute, Alanna Kennedy headed the ball past Adrianna Franch from a well-executed corner kick. Marta sent a cross into the box that was flicked on by Toni Pressley for Kennedy's point-blank chance.
Orlando pressed for the equalizer and kept Portland hemmed in for segments of the second half before Raso sprinted behind the defense to collect an upfield pass from Lindsey Horan and score the critical third goal.
"When you've got a (Thorns) team of that quality and you keep knocking on the door, you know you're going to give up a chance at some stage at the other end. And that's what happened," Orlando coach Tom Sermanni said.
The fourth goal came from Sinclair in the 82nd minute. Moments after Nadia Nadim replaced Heath — who went 80 minutes in her first start of the season — Nadim sent a looping cross over the head of a defender to Sinclair who calmly put away the shot.
The Thorns held the Pride's top two scorers, Alex Morgan and Marta, to one shot apiece and none on goal.
"The Thorns played well and executed their chances," Morgan said. "I don't think we got enough opportunities on goal. Our buildup play was good, but they condensed the field and we weren't able to break that down as well as we thought we'd be able to."
Sinclair said the goal was "to make it an uncomfortable environment for (Morgan and Marta) to play in, and I think we did that."
Sermanni, the Orlando coach, praised Portland's defending.
"We found it really difficult to have the craft to break down their defense," Sermanni said. "And they've done this against us most of our meetings. The (Thorns) defending has been outstanding. And I think the defending was outstanding again today."