By MIKE McCALL
Save for possibly the location, the first National Women’s Soccer League championship will go down just as expected.
The two preseason favorites, the Portland Timbers and Western New York Flash, won their semifinal games on Saturday to set up a final that features some of the biggest names in women’s soccer.
Perhaps the only surprise — a mild one — in the matchup is that the Flash will be the favorites next weekend, playing at home against a Portland squad that’s dealing with a key injury and coming off a wild match in Kansas City.
For a closer look at how the Thorns and Flash booked their places in the final, here’s a rundown of the two semifinals:
PORTLAND TRIUMPHS IN OVERTIME
Down two goals after 25 minutes in Kansas City and playing without injured star forward Alex Morgan, it looked like the Thorns had reached the end of the road.
But Portland came roaring back to tie the score before Allie Long found the net in the first period of extra time to give the Thorns a 3-2 victory in front of 4,016 fans at Shawnee Mission District Stadium.
The home side took a quick lead behind goals from NWSL Rookie of the Year Erika Tymrak and Melissa Henderson, but Portland’s third musketeer, U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath, pulled one back in the 33rd minute to keep hope alive.
Tiffany Weimer knocked home the equalizer in the 65th, sending the match to extra time and setting the table for Long’s heroics in the 103rd.
The comeback saved face a bit for Portland. Even if they have fallen short of lofty expectations this season, it’s hard to argue with a club finishing tied for first and reaching the final. However, there were troubling signs, as Heath had to leave the game with a foot injury and Morgan didn’t leave the subs bench due to her MCL sprain.
On the other side, FCKC’s season got even more heartbreaking. A late goal in the finale cost them the regular season title, and then they blew a two-goal lead at home in the semifinal. The story of their year can be summed up with this stat: they led in 18 of 23 matches but came away with 11 wins.
FLASH CRUISE PAST SBFC
While one semifinal was chock full of drama, the Flash didn’t leave much doubt with a 2-0 win at home over Sky Blue FC.
The NWSL Shield winners did exactly as they were supposed to, disposing of a struggling SBFC team with goals from Carli Lloyd in the first half and in stoppage time.
WNY outshot their opponents 14-5, led by the duo of Lloyd and Abby Wambach, and they’ll head to the final riding an eight-game unbeaten streak.
With that kind of form, Portland’s health concerns and a home crowd (7,316 were at Sahlen’s Stadium on Saturday), the Flash will be liking their chances to solidify a fourth title across four leagues in their past four seasons.
What did you think? Surprised FCKC collapsed again? Is this the matchup you expected all along? Will Heath and Morgan suit up? And can the Thorns win without them?
Share your thoughts below.