Thorns reach NWSL final
That it wasn't pretty was no surprise.
That the Portland Thorns found a way to win was no surprise, either.
A season of battling back from adversity has carried the Thorns to the ultimate opportunity: to play for a championship on their home turf.
A 2-1 semifinal win over Seattle on Saturday at Providence Park — in come-from-behind fashion, of course — means the Thorns will play for their third National Women's Soccer League title at 1:30 p.m. next Saturday at Providence Park.
Portland will face North Carolina or Chicago in the sixth NWSL championship game. The top-seeded Courage and fourth-seeded Red Stars play at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Providence Park. That match was moved to Portland because of Hurricane Florence.
Lindsey Horan scored the winner and set up the tying goal as Portland fought back after Seattle took a 1-0 lead on a 29th-minute free kick.
But the player the Thorns rushed to hug at the final whistle was goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. Her first-half heroics gave the Thorns a chance to fight back, pushed by the support of 14,179 fans.
Seattle would have been in firm control by halftime if not for the heroics of Franch. In a six-minute span with the Reign leading 1-0, the Portland keeper made tremendous reaction saves to deny Jodie Taylor twice and to block a Megan Rapinoe close-range deflection.
"What she does in big games and big moments is produces her best work," Thorns coach Mark Parsons said.
"I thought 'AD' (Franch) was incredible in the first half," Seattle coach Vlatko Andonovski said. "I was actually thinking to myself walking to the locker room (at halftime), 'OK, what do we need to do to score a goal?'"
For much of the first half, Seattle took the game to Portland. But, as they did in their 3-1 regular-season win over Seattle one week ago, the Thorns pulled even late in the first half.
Against the run of play, Heath tied the score in the 43rd minute. Caitlin Foord held up possession and got the ball to Horan, who dribbled hard at the defense and slipped a pass into space to her left for Heath to run onto and finish.
Horan credited Foord's holding possession for creating the opportunity. As she dribbled forward, Horan was waiting for a chance to send Heath into space.
"She made such a great run, and once I found her I knew it was going to be in the back of the net," Horan said.
The winner came in the 77th minute, Horan delivering the header off a cross from Christine Sinclair. It came after a second Heath goal was controversially disallowed for an offside decision. And it came seconds after Horan was knocked to the turf near the top of the penalty area without getting a foul call.
"I think a lot of people were knocked down," Horan said with a smile. "It's a very physical game and it's a rivalry."
In a move that encapsulated her season and her team's resiliency, Horan got up and made a run into the middle of the penalty area, where she headed a well-placed cross sent in by Sinclair. Her header deflected off the inside of the left post and across the goal line.
Three minutes later, Seattle's Beverley Yanez found space inside the Portland penalty area, but whiffed on an attempt at a quick left-footed shot. That was the only real opportunity Seattle generated in the second half. The five Reign shots on goal in the match all came before halftime.
Portland was much more assertive in the second half.
Andonovski said he didn't prepare his Seattle team well enough to respond as play became more "ugly" and frantic as the game went along.
"I thought when the game was played we were the better team," Andonovski said. "I thought when the game got ugly, we didn't know how to match ugly, and that's on me."
The Reign broke through in the 29th minute. Jasmyne Spencer got to the far post to put home the ball from a free kick that Franch said she got a touch on and then varomed off the crossbar. The opportunity was created when Jess Fishlock was fouled just outside the 18-yard box by a recovering Emily Sonnett, and Megan Rapinoe sent a ball spinning toward goal.
Rapinoe and Seattle midfielder Allie Long both returned from injury after siting out the final regular-season game at Portland. Rapinoe led Seattle with eight shots and two chances created, but Portland right back Ellie Carpenter, especially in the second half, more than held her own against the former Portland Pilot.
Andonovski noted that Long hadn't trained much because of her knee injury and was not at full strength. Whether Long's fatigue was a factor or not, Horan and Celeste Boureille were first to a lot more balls in the second half than they were in the first, when the Thorns were on their heels for long stretches.
The physical nature of the match, while no surprise, played into Parsons' decision to replace Midge Purce on the right wing with a more physical Ana Crnogorcevic at halftime.
"We knew Ana would have to come in at some point. We didn't know who for," Parsons said. "The way the first half went, we didn't take advantage of what Midge offers us. It was a game where we needed a different type of player like Ana."
Sonnett, who was issued a yellow card on the foul that set up Seattle's goal, was fortunate to survive the first half. While attacking a ball in the Seattle box, the Portland center back committed a hard foul on Williams. Referee Ramy Touchan talked to Sonnett but did not issue a second card.
Portland had multiple chances on a sequence in the 18th minute, but Lydia Williams made two strong saves and two other shots were blocked as the ball ping-ponged around the 18-yard box. Williams' kick save on a Purce look was particularly impressive.
• Sonnett left the match with a right knee injury in stoppage time. "Hopefully OK. We'll find out more in the next couple of days," Parsons said.
• Thorns center back Emily Menges was shown a yellow card in the second half. It was her first since 2015 and the fourth of her pro career.
• Portland advanced to the championship match for the third time. The Thorns are 2-0 in league finals, including last season's 1-0 win over North Carolina.
• Portland is 8-1-1 since the start of July — 5-0-1 at home.