Portland Thorns are the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup champions after defeating Gotham FC in a penalty kick shootout. Thorns captain Christine Sinclaire and Gotham captain Carli Lloyd scored in regulation before the teams decided the tournament from the spot.
Portland set the tone in the match with an early goal as the Thorns dominated the midfield to open the match. Sinclair scored in the 8th minute after making a play on LLoyd off the ball in the midfield and taking a strike from distance to give Portland the early lead.
While Gotham FC were unsuccessful in their distribution and couldn't finding meaningful space in the final third during the first half, Portland continued to attack and press in front of goal but failed to find a second goal which might have put the match away.
The two sides entered halftime with Portland up with a narrow 1-0 lead, and Gotham with zero successful open play crosses and 2 total shots. The East division club made one substitution to start the second half, bringing Estelle Johnson on for Gina Lewandowski.
Gotham stayed in the game largely due to a strong performance in net from goalkeeper DiDi Haracic, and as the match ticked past the hour mark, Lloyd scored an equalizer for Gotham on a header over Thorns defender and USWNT teammate Becky Sauerbrunn.
During the final half hour, both sides played a fairly open match as more substitutions took place with each side chasing a game winning goal that ultimately never came. Challenge Cup rules meant the match went right from regulation to penalty kicks to determine the winner.
Each team converted four attempts, missing one, and headed straight into sudden death. Second year Thorns forward Morgan Weaver scored the championship penalty.
Let's take a look at some individual performances on the pitch. Ratings are on a 1 to 10 scale, with 1 being an early red card send off and 10 being a hat-trick level match.
Simone Charley, Portland Thorns FC: Active on the front line and in the final third, Charley was constantly pressing and getting to the end line for her team as the Thorns were constantly in dangerous spaces. Rating: 7
Lindsey Horan, Portland Thorns FC: Covered lots of ground in the middle third, and forced looks on goal for the club by creating her own shot and on set pieces. Rating: 7
Kelli Hubly, Portland Thorns FC: Had an impressive Challenge Cup campaign throughout the tournament and earned the start once again in place of the injured Emily Menges. Strong distribution to go along with her defensive positioning. Rating: 7
Carli Lloyd, Gotham FC: The veteran is no stranger to big time games. Though she made an error on the opening goal, she changed the tempo of the match for her club with the equalizing goal later in the game. Rating: 6
Giną Lewandowski, Gotham FC: The veteran defender had a tough day at the office, struggling in the first half to keep Portland's attack at bay, picking up a yellow, and leaving her center back partner Mandy Freeman covering additional space. Rating: 4
The NWSL regular season kicks off on May 15. Portland Thorns FC open their regular season on May 16 against Chicago Red Stars. NWSL matches can be viewed on Paramount+, CBS Sports Network, and CBS.
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