PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Thorns FC should have won Saturday’s game three times over, but all that matters now is the final result. After dominating the first half and being the more dangerous team at the beginning and end of the second, this year’s 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup winners still needed a penalty-kick shootout to claim silverware. Ultimately, Portland claimed their second trophy in seven months, defeating NJ/NY Gotham FC 6-5 on penalties after Saturday's 1-1 draw.
"I'm really proud of our group that we found a way to get it done in penalties," Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said after the match. "I think that's an experience that no one absolutely enjoys. No one. But now in reflection for us to go through this process ..."
The Thorns outshot Gotham FC 26-8. In terms of shots on target, that margin was 7-1. Portland was up after eight minutes thanks to Christine Sinclair’s second goal of the year, and once the teams reached halftime, it felt like Gotham were fortunate not to be down more.
But after weathering Portland’s early second half pressure, Gotham broke through, with Carli Lloyd heading home a cross to bring forth the worst-case scenario. What if all of Portland’s promise went for naught? What if they were left rueing not being more ruthless? What if a late, open header for an opposing attacker at Portland’s far post had been steered on goal? What if Gotham won?
"We could have score five goals today, and it’s not me pointing fingers at anybody," left back Meghan Klingenberg explained. "But I think we need to be a little bit more calm in front of the net, and once we get to that place, I think it’s scary how good this team could be.”
Saturday’s game will be remembered primarily for the trophy Portland won. Don’t push that into the shadows. After that, it will then be remembered as a culmination of an undefeated month that, in its entirety, was worthy of this trophy. No doubt, the Thorns have been the NWSL’s best team since the competitive part of 2021 started.
But in time, and if the Thorns' growth goes as planned, Saturday’s performance will be seen as a stop in the road. It will be a point of growth, but also one of reflection. For as good as Portland was, they still were a late Ifeoma Onumonu header from being upset at home.
"It’s been a long preseason tournament that we are just going to continue to develop from," goalkeeper Adrianna Franch said. "Every, game we are working to do better and see the things that we want to accomplish."
Credit to Gotham for putting themselves in position to win, but credit, too, to Portland for being in position to survive. As much as Gotham as was resilient, Portland was ultimately victorious. That will be history’s final line when it comes to this final, and that will be something Portland can build on.
"A lot of winning is obviously an outcome of work, and an outcome of the process," Parsons said. "I think today that other areas of our game, other areas of our culture and our togetherness probably pushed us over the edge ... But to get the win is great, and knowing that we have room to grow is even better ..."
Remembering Victory: Thorns win the 2021 Challenge Cup:
- HIGHLIGHTS | Sinclair goal, PK heroics lead Thorns to Championship
- PK SHOOTOUT | Franch and Weaver deliver in shootout
- RECAP | Thorns win Challenge Cup Championship in PK shootout
- MEDIA, Parsons: "It was a great cup final for NWSL"
- WATCH, Sinclair: "Nice to finally win a trophy in front of home fans"
- FARLEY | Trophy, room for growth with Thorns' Challenge Cup crown
- Day in pictures | When Thorns FC won Challenge Cup
- #StatMan Three | Sinclair adds to Championship resume