The Portland Thorns will play the Kansas City Current for the National Women’s Soccer League championship next weekend in Washington, closing out a turbulent and emotionally taxing 10th season.
Crystal Dunn came off the bench and scored in stoppage time to give the Thorns a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Wave at Portland’s Providence Park in the first of two semifinal matches on Sunday.
Dunn, who also plays for the U.S. national team, has been easing her way back after giving birth to a son five months ago. Her first goal since returning came off a corner about three minutes into stoppage time.
In the other semifinal, Alexis Loera and Kristen Hamilton scored in the Current’s 2-0 victory over the top-seeded OL Reign, winners of this season’s Supporters Shield.
U.S. Soccer commissioned former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates to investigate following a series of scandals that rocked the NWSL last season.
Yates’ devastating report came out earlier this month. In it, she detailed the Thorns’ handling of harassment and sexual coercion allegations leveled at former coach Paul Riley.
Riley coached Portland in 2014-15. Two former players, Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, accused Riley of misconduct last year in a report in The Athletic. After the release of the Yates investigation, two Thorns executives were fired.
The announced crowd was 22,030 at Providence Park. Fans came out in support of the players but there have been calls for Thorns owner Merritt Paulson to sell the team.
“The players needed it. They needed to see that they’re loved,” Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson said.
Taylor Kornieck put the Wave up early with a header off a cross from Alex Morgan in the eighth minute. The Thorns equalized with Rocky Rodriguez’s volley off a bounce in the 20th before Dunn’s goal handed Portland the victory.
The Thorns have won two NWSL championships, in 2013 and 2017. The Wave were new to the 12-team league this season.
“I think when we heard that there were many, many people showing up today, it really allowed us to get hyped for this game. Our fans have been through a lot as well this year, along with players. I think them showing up is exactly what we want for this community,” Dunn said.
”We want everyone to obviously be able to voice their opinion and be able to share their feelings, but at the same time we also understand, like, without the fans, I mean, the game is just not as fun. And being able to deliver that moment today for them was just really special because it just made me feel like you know, we’re all in this together. It’s a tough year, but we have lived and survived to fight for another game.”
In Seattle, Loera scored for the Current three minutes into the match. The announced attendance at Lumen Field was 21,491.
Hamilton added a goal in the 63rd to stun the Reign. It was Current goalkeeper Adrianna Franch’s third career playoff shutout.
It’s been quite the journey for Kansas City, which finished at the bottom of the league last season.
“You can just tell from our development over the course of the season that we’re in a really good spot where we’re not quite at the top, but we’re peaking at the times we need to be peaking,” Franch said. “Our team is just freaking phenomenal.”
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