Canadian Christine Sinclair’s 92nd-minute goal sealed the deal for the Portland Thorns four years ago in a 2-0 win over the Western New York Flash in the inaugural NWSL championship game.
The Flash had their revenge last year, ousting the league-leading Thorns 4-3 after extra time in the playoff semifinals before defeating the Washington Spirit in a penalty shootout to claim the trophy.
The two rivals meet again for the title Saturday at Orlando City Stadium, with the Flash now operating under new ownership as the North Carolina Courage after relocating following last season.
The final features the league’s top two teams with North Carolina (16-7-1) finishing atop the standings by two points over Portland (14-5-5).
Sinc leads way
The two finalists had similar numbers elsewhere with North Carolina scoring 38 goals and conceding 22 during the regular season, compared to 37-20 for Portland.
A healthy Sinclair, one of three players remaining from the 2013 Portland championship side, led the Thorns with eight goals during the regular season.
“Sinc is a world-class player and she continues to show that on the international and club stage,” said Portland coach Mark Parsons. “Everything she does she attacks it with a world-class attitude with the highest standards.
“She does it all. She’s a smart player, a very intelligent player that is driven to grow and get better each day. And she’s the most unselfish player in the group, in giving to the team, in supporting the team and specifically this season she continues to grow as a vocal leader.”
As for her teammates, Parsons says: “Just to be in the same company as her, it’s just a game-changer for their careers and it’s been a game-changer for me as a coach.”
Sinclair, who was honoured with the Order of Canada earlier this year, has long been the face of Canadian soccer. The 34-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., has led Canada to back-to-back Olympic bronze medals, scoring a remarkable 168 goals in 259 appearances for her country.
The Courage and Thorns split their regular-season meetings with North Carolina winning 1-0 April 22 at home and losing 1-0 July 15 in Portland.
The Thorns come into the final on a 10-1-2 run that has seen them post five shutouts while outscoring the opposition 25-9.
Portland, with skipper Sinclair scoring the final goal, dispatched the Orlando Pride 4-1 in one of last weekend’s semifinals. North Carolina, with Canadian goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo on the bench, edged the Chicago Red Stars 1-0 thanks to an 90th-minute goal in the other semifinal.