WNY upsets Portland in extra-time thriller to advance to NWSL Championship

 ISI Photos-Craig Mitchelldyer

Seven goals -- three in extra time. The Thorns-Flash semifinal had everything, with the Shield winners falling just short.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Western New York Flash is through to the National Women’s Soccer League Championship on Oct. 9 after upsetting the regular- season champion Portland Thorns, 4-3 after extra time at Providence Park.

Golden Boot-winner Lynn Williams scored twice in the first period of extra time to lift the fourth-seeded Flash to the semifinal upset over the Shield winners.

Midfielders Samantha Mewis and Makenzy Doniak had the visiting Flash up two goals within 37 minutes only to see Portland captain Christine Sinclair pull one goal back before halftime. Late in the second half, a close-range finish from Emily Sonnett pulled the Thorns even, but with two goals in the first period of extra time, Williams pushed her side into next week’s final, with only a 105th-minute goal from Lindsey Horan bridging the gap for the Thorns.

The Flash will take on the Washington Spirit, winners of Friday’s semifinal, next Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. Both teams will be competing for their first NWSL title.

Portland entered the game having won both regular-season meetings against the Flash, with a 3-2 win two weeks ago at Providence Park building on the 2-0 victory the Thorns claimed early this year at Rhinos Stadium in Rochester, N.Y. The games were the first time Portland had faced its former head coach, Paul Riley, who left the Thorns last fall after two unsuccessful seasons.

Portland opened the game by controlling the first 10 minutes only to see Western New York take the lead at the quarter-hour mark, with a left-footed finish from Mewis from near the penalty spot getting past goalkeeper Michelle Betos as she was screen by the penalty-box crowd.

Over the next 20 minutes, Portland came close to equalizing through Nadia Nadim, whose shot from the left of the Flash penalty area forced Sabrina D’Angelo into a push-save back in front of goal. Western New York, however, came close, doubling its lead twice: once in the 32nd minute, when Williams’ open shot from 18 yards was pushed wide of goal, and another in the 36th minute, when Williams’ close-range volley went off the crossbar.

One minute later, though, Western New York had extended its lead. On a ball that came out of the Portland area and was circulated toward the left flank, the Flash’s Jessica McDonald was given time to loft a cross to Betos’ far post. Elevating over Thorns left back Meghan Klingenberg, Doniak looped a header over the Thorns’ keeper and into goal, giving the underdogs a 2-0 lead.

That edge was short-lived. One minute later, Portland captain Sinclair won a one-on-one battle with the Flash’s Alanna Kennedy from a long ball played out of the Thorns’ defense. Hitting a shot first-time off the bounce, Sinclair finished into the far side netting from the edge of the box, cutting the Flash’s lead to 2-1.

Moments later, capping a volatile four minutes of game clock, Flash head coach Paul Riley was dismissed after running into the field, presumably protesting a foul in the buildup to Sinclair’s goal.

When the teams resumed after halftime, Western New York picked up where it left off. In the 51th minute, Williams nearly broke through on a ball rolled through the six-yard box by Doniak only to hit her shot within reach of Betos. Three minutes later, a cross reminiscent of Western New York’s second goal again found Doniak at the right post, with the midfielder’s header forcing Betos into a leaping stop.

In extra time, the Flash again got off to a quick start. Nine minutes into the first period, a long throw-in from the right from McDonald was flicked through the Thorns’ penalty area, with an attempted clearance eventually falling for Williams in the middle of the box. Mirroring Mewis’ early finish, the Flash striker put a left-footed shot through traffic and into the right side of Betos’ goal, giving the visitors a 3-2 lead.

Minutes later, the Thorns nearly had their equalizer when D’Angelo pushed a Horan shot from the middle of the penalty box off her crossbar, though the home team’s momentum would prove short-lived. Minutes before the teams switched sides in extra time, an inch-perfect through ball from Mewis put Williams in on goal. Her first-time finish past Betos gave Western New York it’s second two-goal lead.

Just as in regulation, though, Portland responded within minutes, with Horan finishing from close range after Dagny Brynjarsdottir flicked on a cross from Klingenberg. As the teams switched sides, the Flash’s cushion was one.

The match’s final 15 minutes took on the same prose as the second half, when Western New York tried to kill off its previous one-goal lead. But whereas then, Portland converted some penalty-box chaos into a second-half equalizer, extra time would not be as forgiving. Come the final whistle, the Flash had finally killed off the match, riding its 4-3 victory to its first title game since 2013.

For Riley, it will be his third time in a league title game – although he is banned from being on the sideline next Sunday after being ejected – having led Women’s Professional Soccer’s Philadelphia Independence on two runs to finals in 2010 and 2011. For Thorns head coach Mark Parsons, the loss marks his third elimination in the semifinals, with his Washington Spirit teams losing each of the last two years to the Seattle Reign.