Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the Guardian’s free women’s football newsletter. Here’s an extract from this week’s edition. To receive the full version once a week, just pop your email in below:
Old meets new on Saturday evening at Washington DC’s Audi Field, which hosts the NWSL Championship final between the two-time champions Portland Thorns and a Kansas City Current side in their second season.
Road to capital paved with golazos and last-minute shocks
Portland Thorns overcame Casey Stoney’s San Diego Wave last Sunday with a stoppage-time wonder goal from Crystal Dunn to secure their third final appearance in the ninth edition of the championship. Dunn’s 93rd-minute strike was the second jaw-dropping goal of the day, following on from Costa Rica international Rocky Rodriguez’s volley to equalise in the first half.
In the final Thorns will meet an impeccably coached underdog who are growing fast and representing the best of reinvention in an NWSL season marked by the success of expansion clubs. After finishing bottom of the table in their inaugural year, Current finished fourth this season, went on to defeat Houston Dash in a playoff scrap and made Laura Harvey’s shield-winning, star-studded OL Reign look directionless in Sunday’s second semi-final at Seattle’s Lumen Field.
Ruthless attack meets sturdy back line
Thorns forward Sophia Smith fell short of this year’s golden boot by two goals, ceding the prize to USWNT legend Alex Morgan, who notched 16. Smith scored the highest, though, when it comes to goals from open play. Two of those came from outside the penalty area and the remaining 12 are from inside the box, where Smith operates with lethal instinct.
Smith is due a goal and if she’s firing at full capacity at Audi Field, Current may find themselves in trouble. The problem is, when Smith gets into her zone she’ll find a formidable AD Franch waiting in the Kansas goal.
Franch made seven saves to keep the Reign at bay, equalling the NWSL record in her third postseason game shut-out and setting a NWSL record for most saves in the postseason. Current will rely heavily on their goalkeeper, who is a frontrunner to win the Goalkeeper of the Year award, but have a formidable back line in front of her, too. Saturday’s battle will test both.
Portland experience v KC momentum
Portland Thorns are not simply a team that’s been there before, it’s a club staffed with a veteran cast of characters that have been there too, and multiple times. Whether that’s NWSL victory, winning gold at the Olympics (Christine Sinclair, take a bow) or collecting multiple World Cups, Thorns have numerous experienced playersable to guide the squad through the game.
Beyond AD Franch and Canadian midfielder Desiree Scott, Kansas City Current aren’t equipped with quite as many veterans – not that have been tested at the heights of global competition. But they do have a cohesive team playing with creativity, aggression and evident joy. Coach of the year candidate Matt Potter has them playing to their strengths and they know how to manage a game against tough opponents. When AD Franch talks about the “unique heart” of the team, it’s hard not to feel the momentum is on their side.
Players to watch and prediction
There’s an exciting mix of veterans and burgeoning stars to watch in this one. For the Thorns, I’m keeping an eye out for Crystal Dunn as a late gamechanging substitute again and will be interested to see if Defender of the Year nominee Becky Sauerbrunn can help stymie Kansas City’s trend of early goals. Rookie of the Year nominee Sam Coffey has been quietly effective for Thorns in midfield. I can’t wait to see her in a final. And I’ll be watching to see if MVP nominee Sophia Smith comes equipped with the goals.
For the Current, I expect Franch to stand tall again and look forward to Smith testing her. Hallie Mace has made brief, recent cameos for the USWNT – including replacing Emily Fox at Wembley last month – and it will be interesting to see if she continues her dynamic club form through the playoffs.
The Current have made a habit of scoring early and I’ll be looking to see if they come out swinging again, with an eye on Lo’eau Labonta, Cecelia Kizer, and Kristen Hamilton to see if it comes from them.
It’s anybody’s game. I’m ready to be proved wrong, but while I can see Current getting that early goal, I predict that experience tells and the match ends 2-1 in favour of Portland Thorns.
The NWSL Championship kicks off at 8pm ET in the US on Saturday 29 October. You can watch the match on CBS live in the US or stream on Paramount+. International viewers can tune in via Twitch.
The 2023 World Cup draw took place in New Zealand last Saturday, settling the fate for 32 teams (including three pending playoff spots). Hosts Australia and New Zealand welcome eight groups of four teams next July in the newly expanded tournament format.
The first round of Uefa Women’s Champions League matches took place last week, featuring plenty of tightly contested matches. Barcelona were once again an exception in their nine-goal rout of Benfica and side Arsenal stunned the reigning UWCL champions, Lyon, winning 5-1 in France.
Caitlin Foord can’t stop scoring doubles and multiple Matildas are in top form half a year from their World Cup on home soil. Foord found another two goals against Lyon in Arsenal’s aforementioned victory, adding to her tally of twos this month (another coming against Denmark). One notable exception to the Matildas-in-form family is Sam Kerr, though the Chelsea forward has plenty of time to find her goalscoring groove.
Got a question for our writers – or want to suggest a topic to cover? Get in touch by emailing email@example.com or posting BTL.