The Thorns and Gotham will vie for their clubs’ first Challenge Cup title.
By Alex Holmes
The NWSL will have a new Challenge Cup champion on Saturday as the Portland Thorns and Gotham FC are set to clash for the title at Providence Park (1 P.M. ET, CBS).
Both Gotham FC and the Portland Thorns finished undefeated in their divisions to earn a trip to the championship match. Gotham FC clinched first place in the East Division with a 2-0-2 record and finished with eight points. The Portland Thorns had the most successful divisional round in the league, going 3-0-1 in the West Division, which was good for 10 points.
Gotham FC made it to the final via wins over Orlando (1–0) and the North Carolina Courage (4–3) in their first two matches and two scoreless draws against the Washington Spirit and Racing Louisville FC. The match against the Courage was one of the most thrilling games of the Challenge Cup due to the seven goals scored and Evelyne Vien’s game-winning goal in stoppage time that gave Gotham the three points against the Courage, who finished in second place in the East Division with seven points.
Gotham FC, formerly Sky Blue FC, scored five goals in four games. Budding USWNT star Midge Purce leads the team with 2 goals in the campaign, which is tied for second-most in the league through the Challenge Cup’s four games.
Purce is joined up top by Carli Lloyd and Paige Monaghan, who each have a goal of their own on the season. The attack has strong support from the midfield, led by Jennifer Cudjoe, Nahomi Kawasumi, and So-Dam Lee. Anchoring the defense is goalkeeper Dijana Haracic, who has 15 saves on the season, which is third-best among the league’s goalkeepers. Haracic has a steady backline in front of her in Imani Dorsey, Mandy Freeman, Gina Lewandowski, and Caprice Dydasco.
The Thorns earned the right to play the championship in their hometown after reeling off three-straight wins against Kansas City, Chicago, and the OL Reign before tying the Houston Dash (1–1) in their final match.
Portland boasts the league’s most balanced offense, as six different players found the back of the net in the first four games. Forward Simone Charley leads the league in shots on goal.
The Thorns’ starting XI has proven to be dangerous on all three lines. The formidable attack is led by Charley, the USWNT’s Sophia Smith, and Canada’s top player Christine Sinclair. Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan bolster the attack from the midfield. The defense has not given opponents too many chances, and that should not come as a surprise. USWNT captain Becky Sauerburnn has worked in tandem with fellow center back Kelli Hubly and outside backs Meghan Klingenberg and Natalia Kuikka to keep opposing teams at bay. Portland goalkeeper Adrianna Franch has a league-best 0.5 goals against average.
The teams will play at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon, home of the MLS’s Portland Timbers. Gotham FC is looking to take home its first league title since it won the WPS championship playoffs in 2009. Portland won the 2016 NWSL Shield and 2017 NWSL Playoffs.
The 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup Championship between the Portland Thorns and New York/New Jersey Gotham FC is slated for 1 P.M. ET on CBS. More information on the NWSL and the 2021 Challenge Cup is available here.