CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: FLASH vs. THORNS
(Aug. 29, 2013) – The Western New York Flash host Portland Thorns FC on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m. ET at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, N.Y. in the inaugural NWSL Championship Game on Saturday broadcast nationally live on FOX Sports 2 and FOX Soccer.
The Flash pushed their current unbeaten streak to eight games with a 2-0 victory over Sky Blue FC last week in the semifinals of the NWSL Playoffs courtesy of two goals from midfielder Carli Lloyd.
The U.S. international struck in the 33rd minute when she latched onto a cross from defender Katherine Reynolds with a diving header from 10 yards out before sealing the win with a blast past SBFC goalkeeper Brittany Cameron in second-half stoppage time.
One more win will see the Flash match their nine-game unbeaten run from earlier in the season, but more importantly will earn Western New York the 2013 NWSL Championship.
The Thorns booked their ticket to the championship game with a 3-2 (OT) victory over NWSL MVP Lauren Holiday
and FC Kansas City – with midfielder Tobin Heath
and forward Tiffany Weimar
each scoring a goal to pull Portland out of a 2-0 deficit before midfielder Allie Long
netted the game-winning goal in overtime.
It was the third time this season the Thorns trailed by two goals and the first time the rallied from that deficit for a victory.
Saturday’s match will be the fifth consecutive game at Sahlen’s Stadum for the Flash, which boasted a league-best 8-1-2 record at home during the regular season.
The Thorns will be playing their fifth straight match away from JELD-WEN Field, but owned the NWSL’s best road record during the regular season by going 6-2-3 away from home.
The two teams split their two meetings during the regular season – a 1-1 draw July 14 at JELD-WEN Field and a scoreless draw Aug. 10 at Sahlen’s Stadium.
Western New York forward and NWSL Best XI member Abby Wambach and Thorns midfielder Meleana Shim traded first-half goals in the July 14 match before Portland goalkeeper stepped up to save a penalty from Wambach late in the second half to preserve the tie.
Both LeBlanc and Flash goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, the league-leader with 98 saves during the regular season, loomed large in the return match Aug. 10 with both keepers posting shutouts as the Thorns became just the third team all season to take a point on the road against Western New York.
Portland forward Alex Morgan missed the Aug. 10 encounter with a mild sprain of the medial collateral ligament in her left knee she suffered three days earlier.
The U.S. international, whose eight goals were tied for the team lead with fellow forward and Canada international Christine Sinclair, has not played since the injury but has been training with the team for the past two weeks and was an unused substitute for the Thorns’ NWSL semifinal victory over FC Kansas City.
Morgan (8 goals, 5 assists) was one of six players in the league, along with Wambach (11 goals, 8 assists) and Flash forward Samantha Kerr
(6 goals, 5 assists) with at least five goals and five assists.
Western New York defender Alex Sahlen will miss the championship game with a plantar fasciitis injury in her left foot she suffered July 31 – meaning Sarah Huffman will once again join coach Aaran Lines’ back line led by Estelle Johnson, Reynolds and NWSL Best XI member Brittany Taylor that was the No. 1 ranked defense in the NWSL during the regular season.
Portland finished the regular season with the third-ranked defense, with defenders Rachel Buehler, Kat Williamson, Nikki Marshall and Marian Dougherty near ever-presents in the starting eleven for in coach Cindy Parlow Cone.
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Photos courtesy of Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns FC.