by Blaise Ogutu (25/10/22).
Above: Portland Thorns players celebrate Crystal Dunn’s last-minute winner against the San Diego Wave. Photo: @ThornsFC.
Crystal Dunn’s 92nd-minute rocket sealed a win for the Portland Thorns at Providence Park as they came from behind to beat the San Diego Wave and in the process, secure their Championship final spot.
San Diego broke the deadlock in the 9th minute through Taylor Kornieck. The tall midfielder was in the right position to nod in Alex Morgan’s well-angled cross from the right flank.
The Thorns had their work cut out for them and piled the pressure on Wave’s defense. They got their reward 21 minutes in when Raquel Rodriguez fired in a shot from the edge of the area to restore parity. Portland’s pressure yielded a corner and San Diego were unable to clear their lines and the ball fell kindly for the Costa Rican to rifle the volley onto the roof of the net.
Both teams ended the half with good chances to grab the lead. Sophia Smith on a counter-attack couldn’t sort out her feet fast enough off a pass from Morgan Weaver which led to Kailen Sheridan easily smothering the chance. Bella Bixby was forced into a reaction save to deny Kornieck’s half-volley close range in stoppage time of the first half meaning they had to go into the changing rooms at the break level.
The second half was dominated by Portland having the lion’s share of possession but Wave’s defence, marshalled by Naomi Girma was up to the task. The Thorns had a couple of pops at Sheridan but none of them came close to beating the Canadian.
Casey Stoney’s side conceded ground which allowed Portland numerous chances to grab the winner in a tense match. The final 20 minutes of the match saw chances falling for both Weaver and Smith, but neither could ripple the net.
Second half substitute Crystal Dunn was the hero however with a minute of injury time remaining. Rhian Wilkinson’s charges earned a corner from their pressure and Wave couldn’t get rid of danger convincingly and for the second time in the game, the ball landed on a Portland player. Dunn made no mistake in finding the net in spectacular fashion sending over 20,000 home fans into pandemonium and handing her side the first play-off win since 2018.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, Kansas City Current ran out comfortable 2-0 winners against regular season shield-winners OL Reign at Lumen Field to book a ticket into the final.
OL Reign went down in the opening five minutes when Alexis Loera poked home for Kansas City. Lo’eau LaBonta and Cece Kizer combined well inside the box and Kizer’s initial shot was blocked but Reign couldn’t sort themselves out and Loera popped up in the box to put her chance away below Phallon Tullis-Joyce in goal.
Jordyn Huitema had a good chance to draw OL Reign level in the 31st minute with her header but Adrianna Franch made herself big enough to deny the Canadian. Jess Fishlock also came close twice within a minute when she rattled the crossbar with a fierce shot and when a second chance came from a corner, she wrapped her foot around the ball with a smart volley but it was straight down Franch’s throat for a comfortable save.
The Current doubled their lead just after the hour mark when a long ball from the back was not dealt with sufficiently by Sam Hiatt and Kristen Hamilton pounced on the loose ball. Running into space vacated by two defenders, Hamilton pulled her shot wide enough away from Tullis-Joyce to make it 2-0.
Reign had to find a way back and thought they had pulled one back when Huitema saw another header not go in as Loera cleared off the line emphatically in the 73rd minute.
Laura Harvey’s side attacks eventually fizzled out as Matt Potter and his team put on a defensive clinic to see out the remainder of the game condemning Reign to another play-off loss and securing their first final as Kansas City Current.
Portland Thorns and Kansas City Current will face off at the Audi Field in Washington DC on Saturday October 29th.