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Saturday result clinches home playoff semifinal for Portland, but rival OL Reign wins the regular-season title.

PMG PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - With two goals Saturday, Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith (pictured in a Sept. 25 home game against Chicago) finished with a club-record 14 in the regular season. But a 3-3 draw at NJ/NY Gotham FC meant awaiting later results to see if the Thorns finish atop the NWSL standings.The Portland Thorns had their second consecutive National Women's Soccer League shield all but in their hands Saturday, Oct. 1. But, an unlikely rally from the team at the bottom of the standings resulted in a 3-3 draw with Gotham FC in front of 4,752 fans at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

The result does ensure Portland will host a semifinal playoff match on Oct. 22 or 23, but handed an opportunity that rival OL Reign gladly took advantage of, whipping Orlando 3-0 to claim the regular-season title.

Scoring

Gotham, 39th minute — Nahomi Kawasumi gets to a loose ball in the box and finishes after Thorns Kelli Hubly and Taylor Porter slipped down defending a ball delivered by Midge Purse.

Thorns, 44th minute — Sophia Smith converts a penalty kick with a low shot just beyond the reach of goalkeeper Michelle Betos. Hina Sugita was fouled in the box by Ifeoma Onumonu.

Thorns, 45th+1 — Smith delivers a world-class finish on a near-post run, directing a delivery from the right wing by Sugita past Betos.

Thorns, 53rd minute — Morgan Weaver scores on a ball that might have been a cross for Yazmeen Ryan that floated into the right side netting.

Gotham, 56th minute — Ifeoma Onumonu finishes a delivery from Midge Purse, who made a strong run up the left wing and whipped a cross Ifemonu was able to finish.

Gotham, 74th minute — McCall Zerboni got free between Portland's centerbacks on a corner kick to put away a delivery from Kristie Mewis.

Big picture: This one is going to sting, though it will sting less if OL Reign does not beat Orlando on Saturday night and Portland winds up winning the shield.

Coach Rhian Wilkinson credited Gotham FC for its strong performance but said her team had one of its poorer performances this season.

As the coach said, a top-two finish and home semifinal match is "not nothing."

Portland knows it will play at Providence Park one more time this season, on Oct. 22 or 23, with the winner advancing to the NWSL championship game Oct. 29 in Washington, D.C.

Portland finishes the 22-match regular season with 10 wins, three losses and nine draws. Its 49 goals are a club record for one season and the most in the league in 2022. Sophia Smith came up one goal short of winning the NWSL scoring title, but her 14 goals are a Thorns club record.

Multiple Thorns are headed overseas for international duty, which is why securing that bye into the semifinals is significant this season. It will give the international players some time to recover and get back in tune with the Thorns before a playoff match.

No Coffey: Rookie Sam Coffey, who left the previous match with what looked like an ankle injury, sat out the match. The rookie's steady play as the Thorns' holding midfielder — a player who makes key interventions and helps the Thorns play their ball- and player-moving style — was missed.

"You can see what the difference is when she's not on the field. She was a big miss for us," Wilkinson said. "She is the metronome of the team. She moves the ball so easily and is always available. So, we missed her out there. But I like the fact that my medical staff, we don't risk players and further injury."

Sugita sets them up: Portland midfielder Hina Sugita drew the penalty that Smith converted to tie the game, and assisted on the other two goals. The Japanese international, in her first season with Portland, has four assists (to go with five goals) in the regular season and has been instrumental in the attack.

An off day: The Thorns couldn't put their foot down and dictate the style of soccer played for much of the game, something this team has been pretty good at this season. Said Wilkinson:

"I think the Portland Thorns play a brand of the game that is about connection. It's about creating triangles across the field. It's about moving the ball from side to side and being available for one another. And I felt like we were sluggish. We weren't trying to be open for each other. We were passing too great a distance (so) that was getting picked off. I think that's a credit to Gotham and how they hustled us and harassed us and forced us into errors we have not made regularly through the season."

So close for Soph: It took a big save from Michelle Betos in the 86th minute to deny Smith the golden boot and the Thorns a shield-clinching win. Smith dribbled into the left side of the box and took a shot that curled toward the far-post side of the goal before Betos dove left to get a hand onto the shot.

Former Thorns hurt Portland: Gotham FC was able to test the Thorns in transition — particularly former Thorns Midge Purce and Onumonu with their speed attacking from the wings. And former Thorn Betos played big in goal to give the New Jersey side its only draw of the season. Gotham FC finished 4-17-1. Gotham had not scored a goal in its four previous matches, and finished the season scoring only 16 times, but went out on a strong note.

"A lot of credit is due to Gotham. I thought they played with a lot of heart and a lot of energy and they scored some great goals," Portland defender Becky Sauerbrunn said. "I thought some (Gotham) individual performances were really great. I think Midge Purce had a great game and she caused a lot of problems."

Next Thorns match: NWSL playoff semifinal, Oct. 22 or Oct. 23 vs. TBD at Providence Park.


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