(Oct. 2, 2016) – The Western New York Flash will return to the NWSL Championship Game for the second time in four years after forward Lynn Williams scored twice in extra time to help her team outlast Portland Thorns FC for a 4-3 victory in the semifinals of the 2016 NWSL Playoffs.
The Flash were the best offense in the league in 2016 – including an NWSL-best 21 goals in the first half of games during the regular season – and showed off their lethal attack to go up by two inside the opening 38 minutes on goals by midfielders Samantha Mewis and Makenzy Doniak.
The Thorns answered the challenge almost immediately with a goal from forward Christine Sinclair in the 39th minute as Portland quickly reminded everyone watching that they had recovered to draw level on five of the eight occasions they fell behind during the regular season – with the 63 percent recovery rate a league best.
Portland completed the comeback in the 77th minute as defender Emily Sonnett turned in her shot at the back post to force extra time and set off wild celebrations by the crowd of 20,086 at Providence Park, an NWSL postseason record.
But the drama wasn’t done as Williams scored in the 98th and 104th minutes and the Flash survived an intense finish to extra time after Thorns forward Lindsey Horan pulled a goal back in stoppage time of the first half of extra time.
See below for a breakdown of all the action.
Flash 4, Thorns 3
Goals: FLASH – Samantha Mewis 16’; Makenzy Doniak 38’; Lynn Williams 98’, 104’. THORNS – Christine Sinclair 39’; Emily Sonnett 78’, Lindsey Horan 106+’.
The Breakdown: Portland Thorns FC and the Western New York Flash clashed Sunday in a matchup of the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense in the league that featured three of the top four goal scorers in the league as well as a player who set a new NWSL single-season record for assists.
The Thorns and Flash combined for 20 goals (Portland 11, Western New York 9) from set pieces during the regular season and that prowess from restarts was on display Sunday as four of the seven goals in the match came from dead-ball situations – including Western New York’s first three tallies.
Both teams struck the woodwork, with Western New York Flash forward Lynn Williams hitting the crossbar in the 36th minute shortly before her side grabbed a 2-0 lead through Mewis and Doniak. Portland also hit the crossbar trailing by one in the 100th minute when forward Lindsey Horan saw her shot pushed onto the woodwork by the faintest of touches from Flash goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo.
It was one of several impressive moments from the goalkeepers in the match – which included several diving saves from Portland net minder and 2015 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year Michelle Betos. The best effort from Betos came in the 54th minute when Western New York defender sent a cross into the box that Doniak smashed on frame from point-blank range only for the Portland goalkeeper to keep out without allowing a rebound.
Portland fell to 1-2-0 (W-L-T) at the same stage and became the first NWSL Shield winner to not go on and reach the NWSL Championship Game. Meanwhile, victory for Western New York improved their record in the NWSL semifinals to a perfect 2-0-0 and sends them on to face the Washington Spirit in the 2016 NWSL Championship Game on Sunday, Oct. 9 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
Moment of the match: In the highest-scoring postseason game in NWSL history, perhaps the biggest moment came from a defender – as Abby Dahlkemper cleared the ball off the goal line in the 123rd minute to preserve the victory for the Flash. Thorns midfielder Tobin Heath delivered the ball into the box that Western New York goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo came for but could not get as Portland midfielder Lindsey Horan sent a looping header toward the goal. But Dahlkemper tracked back on the play and was in the right place at the right time to clear the ball away from danger.