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2022 NWSL Champions Portland Thorns FC

Sophia Smith dazzled the crowd and kept them on their feet all night long. The young superstar has overtaken the league and world this season. It was only fitting she would score and send the building into a frenzy.

By J.J. Pavlick 10/29/22

Tonight’s matchup will feature two teams that love to counter-attack and capitalize on mistakes. The matchups and formations on the fly will be interesting in this one, both managers come in as 1st-year coaches for their clubs and they both will make moves to get the advantage regardless of time into the match. Look for an expert game of chess tonight between the two managers and their players. Both teams have had difficult paths to the finals, and both overcame adversity to be here. The managers at media day both shared almost identical philosophies when it came to how they managed their clubs this season. They both gave their players the freedom to be themselves and have fun on and off the pitch, the goal celebrations will be top-notch tonight and involve some choreography. Audi Field is loud, and the anticipation is building as we are now within 15 minutes of the Kickoff.

You never know with her she can make a run at you then, pass it off, take a shot, you just never know and that is what makes her an overall threat on the pitch. What makes her special is her mentality, every day she wants to be better, and she is so humble about it. There are just no words for it. She is always about her teammates; she is always thanking them for making her better.”

Portland starts the match with the kickoff, under a minute in and Portland draws a foul 22-yards from the goal, Ryan takes the free kick but kicks it right into the KC wall. The Thorns get on the board quickly, 5’ into the half the MVP Sophia Smith finds a perfectly placed through ball from 40 yards out, she took it in on the goal, cut it outside around Franch, and buried a laser into the middle of the goal. In the 14’ Smith breaks two defenders and takes a shot from the left side of the goal and fires a missile to the far post that goes just high and wide. The teams start to settle in a bit and the midfield is not letting anyone through for either team. In the 27’ Smith breaks through the defense again on the left side of the goal and she fires a low-driven ball that skips just wide of the far post. Franch takes the goal kick and takes her time playing the ball back in to settle things down. During the 30’ Sophia breaks in on the right side of the goal this time and plays a cross to Merrick that is intercepted by Merrick and cleared from danger. The half so far has been all about Soph being Soph and pressuring Franch and her defensive line. The Kansas City Current finds a hole in the Portland defense and tries to capitalize off a well-played cross by Labonta to Del Fava but her header from a yard out just goes up and over the crossbar. She just got under it a little. A few minutes later Mace beats Cedeno to an open ball 16-yards from the goal, she dribbles it out of danger ending a fantastic opportunity for the Thorns. In the 39’ a great save by Franch on Weaver snuck by Ryan and took a hard shot toward the near post. A minute later Del Fava gets into the penalty area and goes down, the center says play on no foul and the Thorns Bixby picks up the loose ball. The 4th official indicates a minimum of 1 minute added to the first half. Mace intercepts a pass and gets around Smith, she dribbles into the box twelve yards from the goal and fires a shot that is blocked out of play, over the goal line for a corner kick. The Current Loera takes the kick, the cross goes into traffic in front of the goal, Thorns clears it, and the center referee blows the whistle to end the half. The Current got off to a rocky start, one great pass by the Thorn and a miss read by Bell lead to the opening goal. While Portland took the game to the Current for the majority of the first half, KC responded late creating solid chances that just lacked that finishing touch. They struggled to stop the “bubble braid queen, the league’s 2022 MVP” Sophia Smith. She put the entire world on notice tonight with the match that she had. When Crystal Dunn said on media day that Sophia is the most dangerous player she’s ever seen, that said a lot. The young talent did not disappoint in the first half tonight. The Current Manager Matt Potter is going to have 15 minutes to produce a plan to stop Soph. It is not an easy task, and I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. Look for KC to try and come out fast to start the second half and get back in this match. The Current started the second half with the kickoff, they turned it over quickly and Sophia went in on goal, but Franch makes the save from thirteen yards out in the 46’ of action. The teams are picking up the pace out on the field. In the 55’ Mace fires a rocket from 20 yards out and goes wide of the goal. A minute later Ryan makes a run down the right side of the pitch, she crosses it in toward Smith who flicks it off Franch, she cannot handle the shot and knocks it into her own goal before the defender could stop it. Portland goes up 2-0 after an own goal. A few minutes later Smith fires a rocket from 18-yards out that Franch leaps to send over the crossbar for a corner kick. Portland takes a quick corner kick, Weaver takes a shot from 22-yards out, and again Franch makes an incredible save putting the ball out for another corner kick. In the 60’ Cedeno takes a shot from distance, and it goes well wide of the goal. During the 63’ Portland makes two substitutions bringing on Janine Beckie and Hina Sugita for Morgan Weaver and Roxy Rodriguez. A minute later KC brings on Elyse Bennett for Addisyn Merrick. In the 69’ Sophia Smith goes down with cramping in her leg. The referee calls out the trainer to evaluate Smith, she walks off on her own. In the 73’ Portland makes a substitution that sends the building into a frenzy and a standing ovation Sinclair comes off and Crystal Dunn enters. Both players get a loud cheer and a standing ovation. A few minutes later KC makes a substitution, bringing on Isabel Rodriguez for Desiree Scott. In the 88’ Beckie with a shot wide left of the goal. The 4th official indicates a minimum of 4’ added to the 2nd half. Portland makes a substitution Olivia Lynn Moultrie comes on for Yazmeen Ryan in the 90’+2’. The center referee checks her watch and that is the game as she blows the final whistle. Portland is your 2022 NWSL Champions!! Tonight, just was not the Currents night out there, but honestly, they still have so much to be proud of this season. While this match will sting a bit, they did what no one expected of them, they went from last place last season to the NWSL Finals. That does not just happen, it takes a strong work ethic, sacrifices, and change. The Current can leave D.C. knowing they can play with the top teams, they can win big games, and they will be a force to reckon with for the near future. They have two amazing owners, Chris and Angie Long, they are driven and want to provide the best place and atmosphere for their club. They genuinely love their team, and it shows from talking to the fans, players, managers, coaching staff, trainers, and the list goes on. I’ve yet to meet someone who had anything bad to say about them. They are extremely humble, and they will talk with anyone who approaches them. Tonight, after the game, I spoke with Chris about all the amazing things this team has done and will continue to do. I look forward to seeing their new home arena and training facilities that have the league on fire. He stated the club is expecting all the work to be done by the end of 2023. The first women’s specific soccer arena! When I say that is huge, I am not joking it’s a major step forward for women’s soccer. Today was a step in the right direction for the league, from the events held by the Washington spirit’s supporters to the fan fest to the game and post-game socials. Commissioner Jessica Berman and her team did an amazing job. Already looking forward to the next seasons!! #NWSL #NWSLChampionship #Soccer #Thornsfc #Tealrising Post-game interview with USWNT Manager Vlatko Andonovski Q: After watching today’s match did it help in making any decisions with the roster and player roles? A: The Roster was already submitted before tonight’s match and will be released tomorrow by the federation. He did see things he liked on the field from some players, but he did not rule out future roster moves and player roles after tonight’s game. Q: What are your expectations for the matches against Germany since you will face them twice in a brief period between Florida and New Jersey? A: Germany has one of the best teams in the world, they are always going to be organized and disciplined, and they will present challenges for us, but we will have to overcome them. The main focus is going to be synchronizing the lines, getting certain players on the pitch together, and overcoming challenges together with this set of players we like to get cohesive. Q: Now that you know the group you will face in the World Cup how do you feel about it going in? A: Look it is not going to be an easy group at all, we have one of the best teams in the Netherlands, then we have Portugal whom we played a year, year, and a half ago and was a really good opponent for us and they’re doing really well. Sorry I mean we could see Cameroon or someone else but, whoever comes out of that is going to be a big challenge for us. But it is a World Cup, and it is going to come down to playing the best in the world, and every game matters, no question about it, and every game for us is a must-win game. Q: What did you think of Sophia out there today on the pitch? A: Sophia is once again showing us the potential she has, the talent that she possesses, she is turning into a really talented player. (The interview had to pause for a few minutes because Sophia Smith snuck up on us. She asked the coach if he could come to meet her family since they had not met him yet. He acknowledged and told her he was just finishing the interview if she could close her ears because the question was about her. In typical Sophia fashion, she stuck her fingers in her ears, spun, and struck a pose, and ate up the moment in only a way Soph can.) After the coast was clear the coach finished his comments as follows: So, I am happy for her to win all these awards, twice MVP, a club champion. It is a beautiful testament to how good she is. The interview ended mutually so he could go meet Sophia’s family. Interview with Portland Thorns GM Karina LeBlanc Post Game on the field Q: What was the overall feeling about the play of Sophia Smith tonight? A: You never know with her she can make a run at you then, pass it off, take a shot, you just never know and that is what makes her an overall threat on the pitch. What makes her special is her mentality, every day she wants to be better, and she is so humble about it. There are just no words for it. She is always about her teammates; she is always thanking them for making her better.

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