Washington holds its breath as Thorns and Current clash in the NWSL final

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The old meets the new Saturday night at Audi Field in Washington DC, which hosts the NWSL championship final between the two-time Portland Thorns champions and a current Kansas City team in their second season.

Road to the capital paved with golazos and last minute shocks

The Portland Thorns overcame Casey Stoney’s San Diego Wave last Sunday with a stunning injury time goal from Crystal Dunn to secure their third final appearance in the ninth season of the league. Dunn’s goal in the 93rd minute was the second stunning goal of the day, after the Costa Rican international Rocky Rodriguez’s volley equalize in the first half.

In the final, Thorns will meet an impeccably trained underdog who is growing rapidly and represents the best of reinvention in an NWSL season marked by the success of the expanding clubs. After finishing bottom in their inaugural year, Current finished fourth this season, went on to defeat Houston Dash in a playoff discard, and made Laura Harvey’s star-studded and shield-winning OL Reign look like in the second semi-final. Sunday at Seattle’s Field of Light.

The merciless attack meets the sturdy rear line

Thorns striker Sophia Smith did not reach this year’s golden shoe by two goals, handing the award to USWNT legend Alex Morgan, who scored 16. Smith scored the highest, though, when these are goals from open play. Two of these came from outside the area and the remaining 12 are from inside the area, where Smith operates with a lethal instinct.

Smith is due for a goal and if he’s firing at full throttle at Audi Field, Current could be in trouble. The problem is, when Smith walks into his zone, he’ll find a formidable AD Franch waiting in the Kansas door.

Franch made seven saves to keep the Kingdom at bay, equaling the NWSL record in his third post-season game stoppage and setting an NWSL record for most post-season saves. The current will rely heavily on their goalkeeper, who is the favorite to win the Goalkeeper of the Year award, but also has a formidable defensive line in front of her. Saturday’s battle will test both of them.

Current Kansas City goalkeeper Adrianna Franch takes a shot away during the semifinal win against OL Reign. Photograph: Steph Chambers / Getty Images

Portland experience versus KC momentum

The Portland Thorns aren’t simply a team that has been there before, it’s a club with a cast of veteran characters who have been there over and over again. Whether it’s winning the NWSL, winning gold at the Olympics (Christine Sinclair, take a bow) or collecting more World Cups, Thorns has numerous experienced players who can lead the team through the game.

Other than CEO Franch and Canadian midfielder Desiree Scott, Kansas City Current doesn’t have as many veterans as they’ve been tested at the top of global competition. But they have a cohesive team that plays with creativity, aggression and obvious joy. Nominee Coach of the Year Matt Potter makes them play on their strengths and they know how to handle a match against tough opponents. When CEO Franch talks about the “one heart” of the team, it’s hard not to feel that momentum is on their side.

Players to watch and predictions

There is an exciting mix of veterans and growing stars to watch in this film. For the Thorns, I’m keeping an eye on Crystal Dunn as a late replacement and will be interested to see if Defender of the Year nominee Becky Sauerbrunn can help thwart Kansas City’s early goal trend. Rookie of the Year nominee Sam Coffey was quietly effective for Thorns in midfield. I can’t wait to see her in a final. And I’ll be watching to see if MVP candidate Sophia Smith is equipped with the lenses.

For the Current, I expect Franch to stand up again and can’t wait for Smith to put it to the test. Hallie Mace has made short, recent cameos for the USWNT – including replacing Emily Fox at Wembley last month – and it will be interesting to see if she continues her dynamic club form through the playoffs.

Current have got into the habit of scoring early and will try to see if they come out swinging again, with an eye on Lo’eau Labonta, Cecelia Kizer and Kristen Hamilton to see if it comes from them.

It’s anyone’s game. I’m ready to be proven wrong, but while I can see Current getting that goal early, I anticipate experience will tell and the match will end 2-1 in favor of the Portland Thorns.

The NWSL Championship kicks off at 8pm ET in the United States Saturday 29 October. You can watch the match on CBS live in the US or stream on Paramount +. International viewers can tune in via Twitch.

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Points of discussion

• The 2023 World Cup draw took place last Saturday in New Zealand, setting the fates of 32 teams (including three places open for the playoffs). The hosts from Australia and New Zealand will welcome eight groups of four teams next July in the recently expanded tournament format.

• The first round of UEFA Women’s Champions League matches took place last week, featuring many close-knit matches. Barcelona were once again an exception in Benfica’s nine-goal defeat and Arsenal squad stunned defending UWCL champions Lyon by winning 5-1 in France.

• Caitlin Foord can’t stop scoring doubles and more Matilda is in top form six months away from the World Cup at home. Foord scored two more goals against Lyon in the aforementioned Arsenal win, adding to his tally of two this month (another against Denmark). A notable exception to the fit Matildas family is Sam Kerr, although the Chelsea forward has plenty of time to find his own scoring pace.

Caitlin Foord scores her second goal in Arsenal's 4-1 Champions League win against Lyon.

Caitlin Foord scores her second goal in Arsenal’s 4-1 Champions League win against Lyon. Photography: Dave Winter / Shutterstock

Quote of the week

“EA Sports is the epicenter of global football fandom and we recognize the role we play in representing and elevating diversity and participation in sport” – Andrea Hopelain, SVP of Brand at EA Sports. EA Sports made some exciting announcements regarding last week’s Women’s Football Summit in London, unveiling $ 11 million in their Starting Fund XI, a depiction of the UWCL in their video game, a televised partnership with Dazn and more.

Recommended viewing

Five months after giving birth to her son, Marcel, USWNT and Thorns midfielder Crystal Dunn returned to the field and scored Portland’s injury time goal to send the Thorns to the final. The only thing more remarkable than The target. the goal it could be the emotion in the reaction of the sold out audience.

Do you want even more?

Arsenal and Manchester United continue to win, as Everton continues to impress our writers in the weekend action Talking Points in the WSL.

Unlucky Matildas: Emma Kemp reflects on a World Cup draw that handed Australia’s co-organizers a daunting task next year.

Suzanne Wrack takes a look at the eight groups for the big in New Zealand and Australia.

And here is his account of Arsenal’s important victory in Lyon.

Do you have a question for our writers or do you want to suggest a topic to cover? Get in touch by emailing moving.goalposts@theguardian.com or posting BTL.

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