The Thorns FC forward discusses her last-minute game-winners, the 2022 Women’s International Champions Cup and more.
Just under 10 minutes remained in the 2021 Women’s International Champions Cup final when Portland Thorns FC forward Morgan Weaver was subbed on.
The scoreline was locked, stubbornly, at 0-0. Olympique Lyon Fémenin’s defense had held back the Thorns’ attack so far, and penalty kicks loomed. Weaver was champing at the bit to break the stalemate.
Still recovering from an ankle injury that kept her sidelined for nearly a month, Weaver knew she had only a few precious minutes to make an impact.
It only took her five.
The trophy-winning moment
From deep in Lyon’s half, Weaver spotted the ball leave the foot of teammate Christen Westphal, a long pass from midfield, and took off like a rocket. She cut off the closest defender, touched the ball just enough to slow its speed, and chased it as it bounced toward the end line. Goalkeeper Christiane Endler raced off her line but Weaver got there first. From an impossibly narrow angle, Weaver shot low and hard across her body as inertia carried her beyond the goal line.
She, and the thousands of fans in the stands just above her, watched as the ball skimmed the goal line and nestled into the far corner of the net.
Two touches, five seconds. The Thorns lifted the WICC trophy that night—their second of 2021.
“Honestly the angle was insane,” says Weaver, recalling the moment. “But the goalkeeper was out so I was like, ‘I’m going to try and hit it as best I can toward goal and if someone’s there, they could at least hit it in.'”
Weaver is a master at stepping up in crucial moments and nowhere is that put on full display more so than in knockout competitions. Take the inaugural Challenge Cup, for example. Weaver scored in the 68th minute to knock bitter rivals North Carolina Courage out of the competition in the quarterfinals. In the 2021 Challenge Cup, Weaver stepped up for the tournament-winning penalty against NY/NJ Gotham FC and tucked the shot away, cool as ice.
Weaver's Secret Weapon: Fan Energy
As chaos in late-game moments swirl, Weaver says she has a calming strategy that varies slightly whether the Thorns are home or away. At Providence Park, she loves listening to the crowd and allows the energy to fuel her adrenaline.
“In the last 10 minutes of a game you can hear [our fans] going crazy,” Weaver says. “If we’re winning or losing, they’re trying to cheer us up and get us to go.”
Those thousands of Thorns fans' voices aren’t usually present for road games, but Weaver says playing away from Portlands makes the team hungrier as players think about what a particular result would mean to everyone back home. That was at least the thought process on August 10 when Weaver’s goal in the third minute of stoppage time helped the Thorns complete a late comeback and take all three points from a crucial midweek game against the Washington Spirit.
“My mindset whether I’m starting or coming in from the bench is being dialed in and focused, so whenever I get that opportunity, I try and make it count,” Weaver said. “Everyone’s trying to bring the best out of themselves and stay focused. It's an important dynamic our team has.”
Weaver, 24, calls last summer’s championship-clinching goal in the WICC one of her most memorable in her NWSL career so far. She’ll remember the goal itself, obviously, but she calls the assist just as special to her: Westphal, who now plays for San Diego Wave, was her roommate at the time and remembering that goal allows her to go back to their time together on and off the field.
The WICC is back in Portland
Weaver is not resting on any laurels, however. The WICC begins Wednesday, August 17, and there’s another trophy to fight for. It also gives Portland an opportunity to build tournament experience against top international competition.
“This is where we can build each other up and get more confidence back, working on what we need to for the NWSL season,” Weaver saysid. “It’s a great opportunity for us to work on things that we need to fix.”
For fans, the tournament gives Portland fans see (more) world-class talent play in their backyard, with C.F. Monterrey and and Chelsea FC Women joining the returning Olympique Lyon.
For Weaver, it’s another opportunity to add to her ever-growing resume.
“It’s something really cool to see teams from different parts of the world come to Portland and fight for a championship,” she says. “It’s exciting for fans as well to see these teams. And for us it’s really cool that we get this opportunity to play some of the best teams in the world.”