By Tyler Nguyen
The North Carolina Courage claimed their first NWSL title by beating the Portland Thorns 3-0 in front of a sold out crowd of 21,144 in Providence Park in Portland, the largest attendance for a professional women's soccer final in any league in US history. Former Portland Thorns striker, and current Courage forward, Jess McDonald scored two headers and won the NWSL Championship MVP.
The Thorns went down two goals in the first half and fought hard to come back, but conceded another in the second.
"Not many people get a chance to play a championship game in front of their home fans, and the fans were incredible again today," said Thorns striker Christine Sinclair after the game. "Going down early, it's never easy, especially against the stingy defense that they have. We just couldn't create that golden opportunity that we usually do."
North Carolina has been a record setting team throughout the regular season team, losing only one game all year. The team beat the Thorns in all three regular season games, including a 4-1 win at Providence Park earlier in the year. The Thorns, meanwhile, rallied late in the season, going on a nine-game winning streak, with only one loss at an away game in North Carolina.
At today's match, The Thorns came out strong during the start of the second half, connecting Lindsey Horan to the forward line better and creating more chances.
"While it wasn't going our way, you're always in with a chance," said Portland Thorns coach Mark Parsons after the game, "and the third goal was going to be crucial."
North Carolina continued to be dangerous, however. Courage midfielder Debinha nearly tallied a second goal with a diving header in the 59th minute, and forward Jess McDonald narrowly had another herself in the 61th, also from a diving header. (McDonald did finally get herself a second goal in the 64th minute).
Even 3-0 down, the Thorns pushed for a comeback. Forward Christine Sinclair sent in a rocket that Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland had to palm away in the 71st minute. Thorns forward Caitlin Foord also attempted a shot from the top of the box in the 82nd minute, which went just over the net. The Courage, however, held on for a win in the home of one of their closest rivals.
During the post-game trophy presentation, Thorns fans stuck around to cheer their team on as the Thorns did a lap of appreciation.
"I started tearing up a bit, not necessarily because we lost," said Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg after the match. "When you let yourself down it's one thing, but when you feel like you have let down your family, it's something different. It's pretty emotional, but having them behind is one of the best things in the world."