The NWSL opened and closed the weekend with a pair of thrilling extra time encounters that saw the Washington Spirit and the Western New York Flash emerge as finalists for the 2016 NWSL Championship match to be decided Sunday afternoon at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium.
Washington hosted the Chicago Red Stars Friday at the Maryland SoccerPlex responding to the vocal home crowds promptings with an impressive first half that might well have yielded more that the 1-0 halftime lead that the Spirit took to the dressing room at the 45-minute mark.
U.S. WNT defender Ali Krieger headed home from a Shelina Zadorsky cross to stake the Spirit to that well-deserved advantage in the 36th minute but the home side was unable to pad that lead before the break.
Red Stars coach Rory Dames must have delivered some inspiring words to his troops during the interval because Chicago was a different team on the resumption.
U.S. WNT attacker Christen Press led the way finally finding the equalizer in the 81st minute when she volleyed home a Casey Short setup from close range. The late Chicago score set up just the second extra time in NWSL playoff history, who knew that two days later we would see the second 90 plus minute match of the weekend.
Press had a golden chance to win the match in the 92nd minute when Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys slipped but with the goal at her mercy Press surprisingly found the woodwork and not the net.
That left the hero’s role to Washington forward Francisca Ordega who sent the 4,249 fans at the SoccerPlex home happy and Spirit on to the finals with her 111th-minute winner.
The weekend concluded with another NWSL Playoff extra time thriller Sunday night when the visiting Western New York Flash disappointed a huge and vocal Providence Park crowd, defeating the Portland Thorns 4-3 thanks to a pair of extra time goals from 2016 Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams.
The two teams treated the crowd of 20,086 to the highest scoring game in NWSL playoff history, with the seven goals topping by one the number of yellow cards handed out by referee Marco Vega.
Vega got an earful from Mark Parson at the half, with the Portland coach telling the official to watch out for “gamesmanship” from the Flash players.
By gamesmanship, it was assumed Parson was complaining about physical and not psychological abuse from the Flash. Vega seems to have taken note, the ref doled out five of a total of six cautions after the half, handing three to WNY players.
The Flash led 2-1 at the juncture with the impressive Sam Mewis opening the scoring on WNY’s behalf in the 16th minute. The visitors extended that lead to 2-0 on a 38th minute Mackenzie Doniak tally and it was beginning to look bleak for the home side.
But that gloom was lifted almost instantly by Canadian star Christine Sinclair who outmuscled her defender and blasted a first-time shot past Sabrina D’Angelo from a fine long ball from Katherine Reynolds.
Portland would equalize in the 76th minute when Emily Sonnett finished from a goalmouth scramble. Neither side could find a late winner and so it was back to extra time for the NWSL playoffs.
Those two goals from Williams seemed to have ended the season for Portland but the Thorns were not prepared to give up just yet. Lindsey Horan made it a one-goal game in the 106th minute as the Thorns fought to the final whistle.
Horan thought she had beaten that final whistle with a late, late looping header only for Abby Dahlkemper to spoil the U.S. internationals’ moment with a last-ditch clearance. Dahlkemper’s save came in the 123rd minute and it would be the play that sent Western New York back to the NWSL final for the first time since losing to Portland in the 2013 Championship match.
1 2 1ET 2ET F
Washington Spirit 1 0 0 1 2
Chicago Red Stars 0 1 0 0 1
WAS – Ali Krieger (Shelina Zadorsky) 36’
CHI – Christen Press (Casey Short) 81’
WAS – Francisca Ordega (Christine Nairn) 111’
Washington Spirit: Kelsey Wys, Caprice Dydasco, Shelina Zadorsky, Whitney Church, Ali Krieger, Christine Nairn, Tori Huster, Joanna Lohman (Diana Matheson 70’), Estefania Banini (Katie Stengel 88’), Francisca Ordega (Megan Oyster 114’), Crystal Dunn
Substitutes Not Used: Stephanie Labbe, Estelle Johnson, Alyssa Kleiner, Line Sigvardsen Jensen
Chicago Red Stars: Alyssa Naeher, Arin Gilliland, Julie Johnston, Samantha Johnson, Casey Short, Danielle Colaprico, Vanessa DiBernardo, Sofia Huerta, Taylor Comeau (Amanda Da Costa 70’; Katie Naughton 114’), Christen Press, Cara Walls (Stephanie McCaffrey 65’)
Substitutes Not Used: Michele Dalton, Jen Hoy, Alyssa Mautz, Sarah Gorden, Courtney Raetzman
Stats Summary: WAS / CHI
Shots: 14 / 11
Shots on Goal: 5 / 4
Saves: 3 / 3
Corner Kicks: 8 / 3
Fouls: 9 / 14
Offside: 5 / 5
1 2 ET1 ET2 F
Portland Thorns FC 1 1 1 0 3
Western New York Flash 2 0 2 0 4
WNY – Samantha Mewis 16’
WNY – Makenzy Doniak (Jessica McDonald) ‘38
POR – Christine Sinclair (Katherine Reynolds) 39’
POR – Emily Sonnett 78’
WNY – Lynn Williams 98’
WNY – Lynn Williams (Samantha Mewis) 104’
POR – Lindsey Horan (Dagny Brynjarsdottir) 106+’
Portland Thorns FC: Michelle Betos, Katherine Reynolds (Hayley Raso 104’), Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long, Tobin Heath, Amandine Henry, Nadia Nadim (Dagny Brynjarsdottir 70’), Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair
Substitutes Not Used: Adrianna Franch, Kat Williamson, Mallory Weber, Meleana Shim, Kendall Johnson
Western New York Flash: Sabrina D’Angelo, Jaelene Hinkle, Alanna Kennedy, Abby Dahlkemper, Elizabeth Eddy, McCall Zerboni (Kristen Hamilton 95’), Abby Erceg, Samantha Mewis, Makenzy Doniak (Taylor Smith 68’), Lynn Williams, Jessica McDonald (Michaela Hahn 115’)
Substitutes Not Used: Katelyn Rowland, Courtney Niemiec, Janice Cayman, Meredith Speck