Ranked! All 10 women's pro soccer championship finals in U.S. history
Every now and again it comes to the fore that I have attended every women’s professional soccer final played in the United States. That number is now 10, if you don’t count WPSL Elite in 2012, which I was also at.
There was drama in that match —which included McCall Zerboni, who will be playing for the North Carolina Courage in this weekend’s NWSL Championship — but we’ll leave it out nonetheless. Here’s a quick look back at all the finals in WUSA (3), WPS (3), and NWSL (4).
10. 2010 WPS: FC Gold Pride 4, Philadelphia Independence 0
FC Gold Pride could be the best one-year team that North American "WoSoPro" has ever seen, but this match was much ado about little more than crowning them champions. The real story was the playoff format that forced the Independence to play the weekend before and also at midweek while Gold Pride were left to rest.
Sky Blue had pulled off the trifecta a year earlier, but they had a linear travel line from east to west while the Independence had just played in Boston. They also required extra time to get through both of their matches and their first one against the Washington Freedom had been played at a breakneck pace in extreme heat.
Fast forward to the championship match, and an Independence team that was already the inferior side had very little to offer. Christine Sinclair put Gold Pride up early and then Kandace Wilson outmuscled a tired Allison Faulk to make it 2-0 before 30 minutes were up, and the rest was mostly formality. Sinclair scored again and Marta added one in the 90th.
Off the field, WPS was saying goodbye to commissioner Tonya Antonucci, who was a driving force behind lining up investors to get the league off the ground. Much as they tried to spin the positives, as it turned out, Antonucci was leaving the building just before it burst into flames.
9. 2016 NWSL: WNY Flash 2, Washington Spirit 2 (4-2 on PKs)
Despite a last-ditch effort by the Flash to tie the match and send it to penalties, where they were crowned champions, much of this match was a bore. That was thanks in part to Jim Gabarra throwing a tactical surprise at the Flash and playing three center backs, who sat so deep it was near impossible to get Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald played in.
Crystal Dunn scored both Spirit goals and had a fun matchup against Jaelene Hinkle, but the Spirit lost Caprice Dydasco early to what turned out to be a torn ACL. And they wound up bowing out on penalty misses by the last three players remaining from their 2013 team—Tori Huster, Ali Krieger and Diana Matheson.
Another reason this one rates low despite being close is the immediate aftermath of both teams. The Spirit immediately began a rebuild, selling off many key contributors to start a youth movement. They finished last the following season. The Flash name never appeared in NWSL again. The franchise was sold to Steve Malik the following January and became the North Carolina Courage.
8. 2014 NWSL: FC Kansas City 2, Seattle Reign FC 1
The Reign’s sensational season crashed and burned in their first home loss of the year.
The Shield winners were displaced from Memorial Stadium due to the annual Bumbershoot music festival, and fell to FCKC to author a sour ending to a season in which they finished 16-2-6. Kim Little was mostly neutralized and Lauren Holiday found Amy Rodriguez twice for goals.
The highlight of the match, and one of the top highlights from the 10 matches on this list, was when a loose ball fell to Holiday, who dribbled through and around multiple Reign players before dumping it off to Rodriguez for the sliding finish.
This was the final with the least buzz around it. The teams trained at out-of-the-way Seattle Pacific University and precious few fans or media came into town for it. It was also the last final before the advent of pre-determined venues.
7. 2011 WPS: WNY Flash 1, Phila. Independence 1 (5-4 on PKs)
A red card, an open goal missed, gray clouds, and a Sciuridae pitch invader were the highlights of a final where many were breathing easier simply because magicJack hadn’t made it to the match.
In a game delayed when a pesky squirrel camped out on the field and refused to leave, the Independence had numerous chances to win but Amy Rodriguez missed multiple looks in stoppage time, which slapped her with a reputation she carried all the way to NWSL. The Flash overcame an extra-time red card to Bev Goebel (now Bev Yanez) to finish off the title after they swooped into the league as an expansion side and attracted many players from the 2010 Gold Pride.
The gray clouds were not in Rochester but elsewhere in the New York area, where Hurricane Irene rolled in the next day. There were also figurative clouds over the league. Despite a rush of excitement on the heels of the 2011 World Cup, the league was entangled in litigation with Dan Borislow, the rogue owner who swooped into buy the Freedom and then “saved” the league right into submission, by moving the club to Florida and running afoul of most league policies.
WPS eventually gave Borislow the boot, but the damage had been done. This was the last WPS match ever played.
6. 2015 NWSL: FC Kansas City 1, Seattle Reign FC 0
The first NWSL Championship at a pre-determined site drew a healthy crowd to Providence Park in Portland, but they were not treated to a match loaded with excitement. The only goal was scored right after Kendall Fletcher had to come out of the match injured.
Heather O’Reilly promptly switched to the left flank for the only time all night, drove around newly-inserted Ellie Reed and fed Amy Rodriguez, who scored the only goal on the night. The win made FCKC the only back-to-back champions that any U.S. women’s pro league has seen so far.
The move to the pre-determined location was announced late and handled poorly, and the Thursday night match time was less than ideal. But there was a certain buzz in the air around Portland that week which carried over to Houston in 2016, and presumably to Orlando in 2017.
The match was the final NWSL appearance for Lauren Holiday, Steph Cox and Leigh Ann Robinson (who played the match under her new married name Leigh Ann Brown). Furthermore, neither team was able to recover from losing key players and after two straight finals meetings, have both missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons.