By DAN KARELL
The highly-anticipated National Women’s Soccer League final between Abby Wambach’s Western New York Flash and the and Alex Morgan’s Portland Thorns produced an instant classic.
In the inaugural final, the Thorns came out winners, defeating the Flash on Saturday evening, 2-0, at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, New York. U.S. Women’s National Team veteran Tobin Heath struck a perfectly-placed free kick in the first half while teammate and Canadian international veteran Christine Sinclair put the game away in stoppage-time, despite playing much of the second half down to ten players.
Although the Thorns finished on top, the Flash had their fair share of chances, especially early on. Flash forward Samantha Kerr made something out of nothing with a long-range header in the 11th minute that forced Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc to parry it off the crossbar.
USWNT midfielder Carli Lloyd also had a few golden chances for side within two minutes in the middle of the first half, especially a wide-open opportunity in the 25th minute that she put wide of goal.
The end-to-end nature of the match took another turn in the 40th minute when Heath stepped up to take a free kick from around 35 yards out. The playmaking midfielder showed off her free kick precision with an accurate blast past Flash goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, giving the visitors a deserved lead.
Moments into the second half, Wambach became determined to pull her side back into the match. In the 49th minute, as she was driving towards the box, Thorns defender Kat Williamson took her down, earning a yellow card. Only eight minutes later, Williamson saw red when she again pulled down Wambach just outside of the box, putting the Thorns down to ten players.
With the Flash throwing everything forward, Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow brought on her star Morgan off the bench to give the visitors some speed in the counter attack, a decision that worked wonders towards the end of the match. In the second minute of stoppage-time, Morgan ran uninhibited through the middle of the field before feeding Sinclair, who finished easily to ensure the Thorns the first-ever NWSL title.
Here are the game highlights: