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Portland beats Kansas City Current 2-0 on Saturday to bring a third league title to the Rose City.

COURTESY PHOTO: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/PORTLAND THORNS FC - Sophia Smith reacts to her fourth-minute goal in the Portland Thorns' National Women's Soccer Leasgue championship game win over the Kansas City Current on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.A turbulent year in Portland soccer ended in triumph Saturday.

The Thorns became the first National Women's Soccer League team to win three league titles, beating the Kansas City Current 2-0 at Audi Field in Washington D.C. in the championship match.

A championship celebration will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1 at Providence Park. The event is free. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Food, beverages and NWSL championship merchandise will be available for purchase.

An early goal from league MVP Sophia Smith and a second-half Kansas City own goal put Portland on top in what was a dominating effort for the Thorns in terms of possession and positioning all over Audi Field — where an announced crowd of 17,624 watched the first women's professional team championship game to be televised in prime time by a major network.

"It's been a hard year for Portland. I think there's been a lot of external distractions for us and for this to be what we achieved this year means so much to us," Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby said. "And we know that the City of Portland wanted us to bring it home for them. We did and we're so happy to bring the trophy home."

Portland jumped in front only four minutes in as Smith converted a breakaway chance, calmly dribbling past goalkeeper Adrianna Franch and rolling the ball into the goal.

The play started with Portland winning the ball in its defensive half and quickly turning it forward. Yazmeen Ryan played a low ball forward from the center line, looking for Smith to run behind. When defender Elizabeth Ball struggled with her sliding clearance attempt, Smith was in behind and scored.

"It was honestly just a fun game to play, and not every game is that fun," Smith said. "Some games are just a grind and you have to grind. This game was fun. I felt the energy coming from everyone. We felt confident. We felt good. We started off strong. So it was just a good game."

Portland dominated much of the first 45 minutes in terms of playing the game in KC's half, but could not add a second goal. The best chance to do it was a 27th-minute curler off of Smith's right foot that spun just wide of the post.

The second goal also came off a quick defense-to-offense transition, with another Rodriguez-to-Ryan ball leading to the opportunity. Ryan got free on the right flank and delivered a cross to the top of the six-yard box that deflected off of defender Addisyn Merrick and goalkeeper Franch and into the goal.

COURTESY PHOTO: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/PORTLAND THORNS FC - Portland Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby lifts the National Women's Soccer League championship trophy in front of Thorns supporters on Saturday at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.First-year Portland coach Rhian Wilkinson credited her players for sticking together during a difficult two years, and especially in the wake of the Yates report.

The coach also praised the entire organization — particularly the medical staff — noting that Portland arrived at the final with 27 players healthy enough to play if needed.

That she didn't start a key player such as Hina Sugita speaks to the depth, and the sacrifice, her team made, Wilkinson said.

And, Wilkinson said her players were willing to trust in changes she made from the start of the season, and through changing formations and lineups.

"What I think I was able to do, because I had a team that was willing to do it, is try things and that was really special with this group," Wilkinson said. "I had a different formation tonight than I did for the semifinals and a team that doesn't believe in you won't do that. They won't follow you on that journey. And you saw it got sticky in the first half (on Saturday) and we fixed it in the second half. And those are moments that they did for Mark (Parsons) as well last year."

The decision to keep Sugita in reserve and start Rocky Rodriguez in midfield and Christine Sinclair in a forward tandem with Smith wasn't easy, Wilkinson said.

As fatigue started to show on the Kansas City side, Wilkinson turned to proven internationals for fresh energy. In the 63rd minute, Sugita took over for Rodriguez and Janine Beckie for Morgan Weaver. In the 73rd, Crystal Dunn came on for Sinclair.

"Sinc is one of the best in the world and I wanted her on the field. I think she's earned it and I think she can play that (second striker) position really well," Wilkinson said. "And I think Rocky in the last few games has just been hitting her stride. What a privilege to have Hina Sugita on the bench. And she came in the second half and was a big difference maker for us. And Janine Beckie came in and made a big difference."

Though the Current had little possession in the attacking third, they did generate a couple of dangerous moments including a close-rage header in the 34th minute from Kate Del Fava.

The Thorns also won league titles in 2013 and 2017.

Smith was named the game's MVP, but that award could have gone to Sam Coffey and Rodriguez in the midfield, to Becky Sauerbrunn keeping the defense organized and on task, to Natalia Kuikka for her domination of her flank of the pitch, or certainly to Ryan. The second-year player out of TCU played the ball that led to both goals, but also was an active problem for the Current for 90 minutes.

Portland dominated the match by being first to the majority of first and second balls, and by consistently playing decisive one-touch passes — including on the buildup to both goals.

"Sophia Smith has shown again, why she's such an incredible talent and why we're lucky to have her as part of the the U.S. national team set up," Kansas City coach Matt Potter said. "I thought Becky (Sauerbrunn) really controlled their backline and put them in a position that allowed (Meghan) Klingenberg and Kuikka to go be them. And I thought it was a great little battle Sam (Coffey) and (KC's Alexis Loera) in the midfield at times and thought both showed moments of their quality."

COURTESY PHOTO: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/PORTLAND THORNS FC - The Portland Thorns are presented the National Women's Soccer League championship trophy following their 2-0 win over Kansas City on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.Bixby got the shutout in goal without needing to make a save. The Milwaukie native did make a couple of nice catches on crosses and was helped by a well-organized defense that always seemed to have an extra defender around anytime the Current approached the attacking penalty area.

Franch, the former Thorns keeper, kept K.C. in the contest with four saves, two of them right after the own goal that put Portland up 2-0.

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