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OCT 27
3:30 PM ET
ESPN
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Thorns advance to NWSL Championship with 2-1 win over Reign
Heath and Horan scored for the Thorns
Heath scored the opening goal for the Thorns on Saturday afternoon. (Photo credit: isiphotos.com)
Heath scored the opening goal for the Thorns on Saturday afternoon. (Photo credit: isiphotos.com)

Portland, Oregon — Portland Thorns FC advanced to their second-straight NWSL Championship after defeating their Cascadia rivals, Seattle Reign FC, 2-1 at Providence Park in front of a buzzing audience of 14,179 on Saturday afternoon. 

In the fourth meeting this season between the two sides, the Thorns and Reign met for just the first time ever in the postseason. The Thorns, familiar to the playoffs and fresh off winning the 2017 NWSL Championship, now get to return to the final stage, but this time on their home turf. The 2018 NWSL Championship will be played next Saturday at Providence Park and the Thorns will play the winner of the North Carolina Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars semifinal game on Tuesday.

Saturday afternoon was jam packed with big goals, highlight-worthy saves, controversial calls, yellow cards, and anything one could hope in a rivalry playoff game. Seattle forward Jasymne Spencer put the Reign up front early, but Tobin Heath equalized for the Thorns just before the half. Later, it was Lindsey Horan who headed home the game-winner.

“It feels incredible, ” Heath said after the game. “We’ve worked really hard all season in order for this to be possible. It’s exciting and a great opportunity for us. It showed in this game how much the fans meant to us, especially when we went down a goal; we needed them in order to get back in the game.”

In the 29th minute, Spencer put the Reign up 1-0. The Reign came out in the first half hungry for revenge from last week’s disappointing 3-1 loss to Portland, and it was clear that with the return of Allie Long and Megan Rapinoe to their starting lineup, the Reign were going to be a different team on the afternoon.  

Spencer’s goal blossomed from some combination one-two play between Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock in the final third. Fishlock drew a foul from Thorns defender Emily Sonnett and Rapinoe took a free kick for Seattle in the 28th minute. Sonnett was given a yellow card for the foul.

Rapinoe’s free kick was headed to the far post, and Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch made a leaping save to get a piece of the ball, but it kissed the post and bounced into the path of Spencer. Spencer then knocked it near post past Franch to give the visitors an early lead.

“At the time it was an incredible feeling to score,” Spencer said after the game, “But right now it just hurts. I feel like we fell short of our goal and it is going to take a little bit to get over, but hopefully we’re back here again next year.”

Spencer wasn’t the only one hurting after the game, and Reign head coach Vlatko Andonovski told the media that he told his team he’s “very sorry for them,” he “loves them so much,” and he “can’t wait for next season.”

“We were successful. We did not win, but we were successful,” Andonovski said. Andonovski’s side held the better of the possession on the day at 55.5% to the Thorns 44.5%. The Reign also took 17 shots to the Thorns 12. But, the difference-maker on the day — apart from the goal-scoring finesse of Horan and Heath — was Franch in net.

“There’s no one in the world that can do what she did in the first 45 minutes,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said after the game. “She continues to grow. I don’t think the ceiling is anywhere close. She’s going to be in control of what she becomes here. She’s at a really high level for us.”

Andonovski tipped his hat to Franch, too.

“I thought AD was incredible in the first half. I was actually afraid thinking to myself walking into the locker room, ‘Okay, what are we going to need to do to score a goal?”‘

Reign forward Jodie Taylor took an absolute one-time blast from the top of the box, but Franch managed to make a leaping one-handed save and deny another Reign goal.

Then just minutes later, Long got a shot off from a distance and it landed to the foot of Taylor with her back to the goal. Taylor managed to spin on a dime and crack one far post, but Franch reacted quickly and pounced, making another one-handed save.

Franch finished the match with four saves. Her stops in the first half, combined with the Reign lead, lit a fire under the Thorns offensively and, just before the break, a strong transitional attack from Portland led to a Heath finish in the 43rd minute. Heath scored her eighth goal of the season and Horan earned her third assist with the dish.

“Lindsey is brilliant on the ball and is a great decision maker,” Heath said after the game. “I was just hoping that she would play the ball and she played me the perfect ball and I was able to finish it.”

“Firstly, Caitlin [Foord] did a great job of holding that ball up and waiting,” Horan said. “I think not a lot of people think about that or see it, but it’s a very hard thing to do when their center back was on her all game. She did so well and laid it off to me in a perfect space where I could just run at the defender. So one, credit to Caitlin she did amazing. Then my focus was to find Tobin [Heath] 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.”

Providence Park was alive come the start of the second half, but quickly chanting turned to boos when what would have been a second goal from Heath on the day was called back as offside. In the 69th minute, Horan, Christine Sinclair and Heath all connected for a textbook play that eventually saw Heath slide one past Reign goalkeeper Lydia Williams. The offside call was controversial as the replay showed that Heath was onside.

“The goal that was disallowed — you wonder if it was that type of day,” Parsons said, “But before we let it be that kind of day, this group — Lindsey I think it was who got fouled before that goal, she gets back up and she reloads and scores.”

“She is the best in the beautiful game and she’s the best in the ugly game too,”Andonovski said, “And that’s what makes her special.”

Horan headed home her 14th goal of the season, and seventh with her head in the 77th minute off of a chip pass from Sinclair. “I am very happy,” Horan said.

Sonnett went down with a knee injury late into the game and left the game in the 91st minute.

“[She is] hopefully okay, we’ll find out a bit more in the next couple of days,” Parsons updated the media after the game.

If you thought Providence Park was alive last Friday and Saturday, just wait until next Saturday’s Championship.

“I don’t know if we’re gonna sleep in the next week in anticipation for this,” Parsons said.

 

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