It was destined to be a great match in Portland. With over 20,000 fans stuffed into Providence Park, the Portland Thorns were hoping for a smooth road to the championship match. They had won the Supporters Shield with 12 wins and 41 points, just edging out the Washington Spirit. No NWSL team had yet won the Shield and the championship in the same season; the Thorns were looking to be the first.
Meanwhile, the Western New York Flash came into the match as the underdog. They finished the season fourth on the table with 32 points, barely holding off the Seattle Reign to qualify for the playoffs. While they had looked good at various times throughout the season, and had remained within the playoff bracket for most of the year, it was going to be a tough task to take down the Shield winners.
As soon as the match kicked off, fan predictions started to fall into place. The Thorns had an excellent chance within the first minute of the match. Sabrina D’Angelo—the goalkeeper for the Flash—came out to clear the ball and botched it. Thankfully for the Flash, Mewis ran in and provided the clearance. It was a close call for Western New York. The message was clear: these teams weren’t fooling around.
The game broke open in the 16th minute. After a long throw-in from Jess McDonald, the ball bounced around in the 18-yard box before finding the foot of Sam Mewis. She slammed the ball into the back of the net and much to everyone’s surprise, the Flash took an early 1-0 lead.
But the scoring was far from over. The Flash found their second goal of the match when Jess McDonald crossed the ball into the 18-yard box. She connected with Makenzy Doniak, who headed the ball into the back of the net for Western New York’s second goal.
The Flash didn’t have long to celebrate. One minute later, the Thorns sent a long ball down field. Christine Sinclair turned with the ball, beating her defender, and with one step shot the ball into the corner of the net. To make matters worse for the Flash, head coach Paul Riley made physical contact with the fourth official after the Thorns’ goal and was ejected from the game. With their ringmaster sent off and their clean sheet forfeited, the Flash finished the half with a 2-1 lead and a determination to hold on.
The Flash had a couple of good shots early in the second half, but Thorns keeper Michelle Betos kept them off the scoreboard. She made a couple of incredible saves, showing why she was considered one of the best in the league. Still, it wasn’t enough to just keep the Flash out; Portland still needed at least one goal to force extra time—two if they wanted to win in regulation.
In the 78th minute, the Thorns got what they needed. Tobin Heath sent a long ball into the box on a free kick for the Thorns. D’Angelo came out to get the ball, but she didn’t get control. The ball bounced around in the box before falling at the feet of Emily Sonnett, who gave Portland their equalizer.
At the 90th minute, the match was still tied 2-2. That meant 30 more minutes of play. And regulation was nothing compared to what was waiting in extra time.
In the 98th minute, the Flash found their third goal of the match. Similar to their first goal, the ball came off of a long throw-in from Jess McDonald. Mewis then flicked the ball over to Lynn Williams. The 2016 Golden Boot winner kept the ball on the ground, but got enough power to slide it past a few defenders and past the fingertips of Michelle Betos. The Flash now had a 3-2 lead.
But that wasn’t the last time we saw the Mewis-Williams combination. Six minutes later, the Flash came charging down the field with Sam Mewis in the middle. She passed the ball to Williams in the box, who was quicker than her defender. She sent the ball into the back of the net for her second goal of the match and the Flash’s fourth. Providence Park was silent.
Once again, the Thorns bounced back quickly. Just a few minutes later, Portland defender Meghan Klingenberg sent the ball into the 18-yard box. It bounced off the head of Dagny Brynjarsdottir and landed in front of Horan, who slotted the ball back for Portland’s third goal of the match. Horan immediately picked up the ball and ran back to the line. The Thorns still had a lot of work to do.
In one of the final plays of the game, the Thorns nearly found their equalizer. Sonnett sent a desperate long ball towards the Flash goal. D’Angelo tried to punch it out, but she missed. Horan got her head on the ball, and nearly put it away, but Abby Dalhkemper cleared it off the line. A few seconds later, the final whistle blew.
Seven goals. Six yellow cards. A head coach ejected from the match. The Western New York Flash defeated the regular season champs 4-3 and went on to win the 2016 NWSL Championship. In the offseason, they would be sold to an ownership group in North Carolina and transformed into the North Carolina Courage.
In 2017, the tables would turn, when the Courage made it back to the championship only to lose to—you guessed it—the Portland Thorns.