By JOHN STUPAK
The Portland Thorns are playing for the NWSL Championship tomorrow.
For the first time since 2013, the Thorns will be playing for all the marbles against this year’s regular season Shield winners, the North Carolina Courage.
Portland dispatched the Orlando Pride on October 7, 4-1, to move on to the final test of the season in what has been a four-year mission to get back to the mountain top.
The Thorns will be facing a team that, minus the name, is almost exactly the same team that ousted Portland in last year’s playoffs. The North Carolina Courage were the Western New York Flash in 2016 before changing ownership and location.
It was Lynn Williams who broke Portland’s heart last year, scoring two goals in overtime that ousted the Thorns. The Flash eventually won the title and now seek to become repeat champions.
Williams will back on the field for the Courage and the Thorns will have to find some way to contain her, not an easy task given how explosive a scorer she has proven to be. Portland, however, has a top-notch defense behind defender Meghan Klingenberg and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
The Thorns should have every body and weapon available to them, sporting one of the deepest teams in the league. During last week’s semi-final game, Allie Long, Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Nadia Nadim all came off the bench for Portland, something that would seem unfathomable for other teams in a playoff game, given the kind of talent those players possess.
The key to victory for the Thorns is to get out to a solid start and jump ahead. The Thorns are at their best when they are aggressive and smell blood. However, they have been known for the occasional slow starts and lapses in play that have cost them victories in the past. If Portland jumps ahead early and keeps the pressure on, it will be awfully difficult for the Courage to counter an equal attack.
The Thorns couldn’t have asked for a better matchup to wipe away the disappointment of last October. What better way to exercise the ghosts of 2016 than to cast out the very demons responsible for haunting you since the end of last year.
On a more downbeat note, this will also be the last game for both Nadia Nadim and Amandine Henry, both of whom will be playing in Europe next year. What a fitting farewell a NWSL title would be for those two players who have played like champions during their time in Portland.
So get out your Thorns scarves, your good luck charms, and all the good vibes you can send towards Orlando. Take a break from all the politics and downer news in the world and settle in for what should be a fantastic match on Saturday afternoon. If the Thorns compete at the level they are capable of playing, then expect another championship in Soccer City, USA this weekend.
NWSL Championship Game
Portland Thorns vs. North Carolina Courage
1:30pm on the Lifetime channel.