WASHINGTON — Sophia Smith and the Portland Thorns overcame off-court challenges this season with a championship on it.
Smith, the season’s most valuable player, scored early and the Thorns claimed their third National Women’s Soccer League title on Saturday night with a 2-0 victory over Kansas City Current.
The Thorns also won the NWSL championships in 2013, the league’s inaugural season, and again in 2017. The three titles are the most for any team in the league.
A recent report that revealed league-wide misconduct had a direct impact on the Thorns, but the players said it brought them together.
“We’ve done so much work this season. We’ve been through a lot of things that aren’t in the job description,” Smith said. “So that was really rewarding. I felt so proud of our team because we’ve just been through so much – and to be able to bring that back to our fans who have stuck with us throughout this year, it means so much ours.”
The Current had a costly turnover before Smith came down the field, rounded goaltender Adrianna Franch and scored skillfully in the fourth minute.
Smith nearly scored another goal in the 27th minute, but his shot went just wide. Smith is the second MVP to score in the championship game, joining Lynn Williams for North Carolina in 2016. At 22, she is also the youngest player to score in a league final.
Smith was honored as MVP earlier this week after scoring a club-record 14 goals during the regular season. She was also chosen MVP of the championship game.
An own goal from Kansas City’s Addisyn Merrick doubled Portland’s lead in the 56th minute. Moments later, Morgan Weaver had a shot from range but Franch got his hands on it before he hit the crossbar and stalked away.
“This one hurts,” current coach Matt Potter said. “It’s just a moment, to put it into the big picture. Then obviously we have a lot to celebrate right now and this year that we can all look back on, maybe tomorrow or the next day, and be very proud of I think we’ve always said that our best days are ahead of us, not behind us.
Audi Field was nearly sold out for the game, which aired in prime time on CBS network television for the first time.
The NWSL was rocked this month by an investigation that uncovered systemic abuse and misconduct, spanning multiple teams, coaches and victims.
The investigation led by former acting US Attorney General Sally Yates was launched last year after two former players came forward with allegations of harassment and sexual coercion dating back a decade against the former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.
Riley, who was fired, denied the allegations. He was one of five league coaches who were fired or resigned last year over allegations of misconduct.
The Yates report detailed how the Thorns mishandled complaints about Riley when he coached the team in 2014-15. As a result of the report, the Thorns fired two team executives. But some fans have called on owner Merritt Paulson to sell both the Thorns and the Portland Timbers from Major League Soccer.
Some Audi Field fans held a sign that read, “Support the Players.”
“We’re a really close team off the court and we knew these things could derail us, so a lot of the conversations had to stay process-based,” Portland goaltender Bella Bixby said. “We know some days are going to be tough for some people, so when we can just come together and carry that burden with them, we’re able to balance it.”
The Thorns advanced to the championship game with a 2-1 win over the San Diego Wave last Sunday. Crystal Dunn scored in stoppage time for the win.
The Current earned their place with a 2-0 victory over top seed OL Reign, surprising the winners of this season’s Supporters Shield.
The Current started playing in 2021 as an expansion team, with many of their players coming from the former Utah Royals. Last season they finished in last place in the league.
The Washington Spirit won the NWSL Championship last year.