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Portland Thorns beat Seattle Reign 2-1, advance to NWSL championship

PORTLAND — The Portland Thorns, after an up and down season marred by injury, are heading to their second consecutive National Women’s Soccer League final.

Lindsey Horan scored the game-winner in the 77th minute for the Thorns as they took down the Seattle Reign 2-1 in front of an announced crowd of 14,179 during Saturday’s semifinal at Providence Park. They will defend their title Sept. 22 against the winner of Tuesday’s semifinal between the North Carolina Courage and Chicago Red Stars.

“We needed to compete and we needed to claw back into this game because no one is going to give it to us,” Portland coach Mark Parsons said after the game. “We were better in the second half and created so much momentum. No matter what’s thrown at us, we keep coming back. That’s where the adversity throughout this season, especially the first half, is paying dividends — and today it certainly did.”

The Reign beat Portland twice earlier this year and led them in the standings for nearly the whole season — except for the last day, when the two rivals played each other in the final regular-season match with playoff seeding on the line and Portland came out on top.

Seattle scored first Saturday only to see Portland claw its way back into the game.

“I’m very sorry for them. I love them so much, and I can’t wait for the start of the next season,” Seattle coach Vlatko Andonovski said of his team. “We had a great season and we still have room to improve.”

Seattle came out of the blocks Saturday determined to set the record straight. Though Portland was the most dangerous team from set pieces during the regular season, Seattle had a few dead-ball chances early. Megan Rapinoe sent a free kick from just outside the area into the wall in the 3rd minute, and the Reign opened scoring off a free kick from just outside the area in the 28th minute. Rapinoe’s initial delivery bounced off the crossbar, but Jasmyne Spencer was waiting on the back post to volley in the rebound and give the visitors a 1-0 lead.

The Reign kept knocking on the door after that — Jodie Taylor nearly doubled Seattle’s lead in the 33rd minute with a dipping volley, and nearly did so again with a close-range redirection – but were kept at bay by Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, who produced four saves on the night.

“There’s no one in the world that can do what she did in the first 45 minutes,” Parsons said of Franch. “I’m just proud of the growth she continues to make and what she does in big games and big moments, she produces her best work. On the biggest stage can you do it? Franch keeps doing it.”

Caitlin Foord, who missed most of the season with an injury picked up during an Australian W-League semifinal in February, nearly scored for the Thorns with a close-range shot in the 17th minute, and Midge Purce nearly sent in a follow-up.

But the Thorns finally responded just before halftime. Tobin Heath scored the equalizer in the 43rd minute after receiving the ball from Horan, who made a run through the middle of Seattle’s defense, shedding several defenders before putting Heath one-on-one with Reign keeper Lydia Williams.

Horan, recounting the play, said, “[M]y focus was to find Tobin, and she made such an amazing run, and once the ball found her I knew it was going to be in the back of the net.”

Heath has become Portland’s go-to goalscorer in recent weeks, with goals in each of the Thorns final four games of the regular season.

Tempers threatened to flare over at times, with Allie Long and Emily Sonnett each taken aside by the match official Ramy Touchan on different occasions. Sonnett nearly earned herself an early bath for a foul on Lydia Williams in the first half.

In the 70th minute, Heath appeared to have put the Thorns ahead on a quick counterattack led by Horan, but her goal was controversially called off.

The Thorns eventually found the game-winner in the 77th minute. Christine Sinclair delivered a cross for Horan to cushion a header off the post and into the net.

The Reign, looking depleted in midfield, struggled to find a way back into the match after the goal, and the Thorns killed the clock to advance to their third NWSL Championship game, and their first at home.

“I think it’s amazing for the [final] to be able to be in a soccer city — the fans are in it no matter what. They’ll be supporting and be loud and proud, and it’s amazing to be a part of a club who’s excited to give it back to the fans,” Franch said. “[Winning a championship] has been the goal since day one. Our goal is to get that third star and whenever we have the opportunity to be in front of the fans, it’s what we want. I don’t know who’s more excited, the fans or us. It’s going to be a good game next week.”

 

 

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