It’s finally here. After an intense regular season that ended with dramatic races for the final playoff spot and NWSL Shield, and memorable playoff games featuring three late match-winning goals, the only game left is the biggest game of them all.
The Portland Thorns will face Kansas City Current in Washington, D.C. Saturday on CBS at 8 p.m. ET. While Portland topped the table for long stretches throughout the regular season (only losing the NWSL Shield on the final weekend), Kansas City is a different story.
The Current were bottom of the table last season, and haven’t had the services of their two marquee signings, Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams. Despite this, the Current had the longest unbeaten run of the season (13 games) thanks to a mastery of their style of play and spectacular goalkeeping performances from AD Franch.
The Portland Thorns scored 49 goals during their 22-game regular season, led by the runner-up in the Golden Boot race, Sophia Smith. What makes the Thorns particularly scary is that though much of their attacking play funnels through Sophia Smith, she is far from the only serious threat – three other players tallied five or more goals. In fact, Portland made it to the championship game through goals from Rocky Rodriguez, who scored just two all regular season, and Crystal Dunn, who was making her fifth appearance of the season since returning from maternity leave.
Kansas City, meanwhile, is slightly more surgical in their approach. They’re masters at setting themselves up to not just absorb pressure but to also bait the opposition into mistakes for them to capitalize on through lightning-quick transitions toward the opponent’s goal. Current players like Lo’eau LaBonta, Alex Loera, Kristen Hamilton and CeCe Kizer excel at instantly identifying gaps to take advantage.
For Portland, it’s simple to type, but laborious to execute. They just need to get the ball through Kansas City’s traps and by one of the best shot-stoppers in the league. The Thorns have all the tools, but must be discerning on how and when to deploy them. Any hint of sloppiness will be seized on by Kansas City, so it will be vital to remain patient – which could be difficult for a team that’s used to piling goals.
Kansas City is not set up to win a shootout of any kind with anyone, let alone the top scorers in the league who bettered the Current’s total output by 20 goals. Including the playoffs, Kansas City has only beaten a team by more than one goal twice, and have only scored more than twice three times.
The Current have, however, won ten (10!) one-score games. That’s not by coincidence, they’re one of the few teams on the planet that can be in control of a match without possession of the ball.
This is one of the more difficult matchups to predict. Portland will likely have the vast bulk of possession, but that could mean they’re racking up the chances and goals, or Kansas City has them right where they want them.
Until a ball hits the inside netting, it will be nearly impossible to tell how this game will go. I tend to lean toward Portland because I have a tendency to be intoxicated by goals, but Kansas City won’t be phased by early pressure, and could easily nab the first goal and force Portland to take chances they don’t want to take. All of this is to say: Let’s find out together, shall we!?
*Editor's note: As of October 26, none of the major sportsbooks have betting odds available for the NWSL championship game.