ROCHESTER — If the Western New York Flash were going to make a comeback, they had the perfect opportunity to do it.
After Kathryn Williamson received her second yellow card for a reckless foul on Abby Wambach, she was given a red card and sent off, leaving the Portland Thorns FC with just 10 players.
But press as they might, the Flash couldn’t find the back of the net. And so for the first time in four years, the Flash lost a championship game. Portland took the first National Women’s Soccer League title with a 2-0 win in front of 9,129 at Sahlen’s Stadium Saturday night.
“For them to hold the lead for 35 minutes down a man, if we weren’t going to score under those circumstances, we weren’t going to score,” Wambach said.
The Flash had numerous opportunities in the first half. Early in the game, Samantha Kerr took a cross from Wambach, but her header went off the crossbar.
Carli Lloyd was denied three times. She shot a bullet wide from about 40 yards out and later went in alone on the left of the box but the shot went wide. A few minutes later, she stormed into the box with the ball but Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc counter-charged to take the ball away.
Throughout the game, the Flash had opportunities and generated plenty of shots.
So what kept them off the board?
“It’s a good question, I don’t know,” Wambach said. “I think once the first one misses and once the second one misses, there was I think a little bit of doubt throughout the team as those chances kept coming and we kept not taking advantage of them.
“But, you have to give credit to their team. They played well. They transitioned so well from playing with 11 to playing with 10. It was almost more difficult for us to break them down.”
Flash goalkeeper Adrianna Franch came up with big saves in the first half, including punching away a header from Christine Sinclair and coming out to grab the ball away from Danielle Foxhoven, who had beaten her defender to go one-on-one with Franch.
Portland took a 1-0 lead in the 40th minute when Tobin Heath took a free kick from about 36 yards out. She lifted the ball over the Flash wall and curled it into the upper right corner.
Twice in the second half the Flash had free kicks after Williamson pulled and tangled with Wambach. The first kick, from 24 yards out, was shot wide by Lloyd and went into the wall.
The second shot, after Williamson left the game with a red card, was from 19 yards out and didn’t result in much of a scoring opportunity for the Flash.
But even without converting the shot, the Flash were playing up a player for the rest of the game, including five minutes of stoppage time. But Flash coach Aaran Lines said that Portland was doing everything to stymie any attack.
“It was our ability to penetrate, to get into wide areas. They were blocking crosses, getting in front of shots,” Lines said. “Quite honestly I didn’t have the feeling in the 85th minute, and I haven’t had this feeling with this group all season, but I didn’t have the feeling we were going to get back in it. That’s football.”
“They’re a fantastic attacking team,” Portland coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. “And as you saw it took everything we had to keep them from scoring a goal on us. Playing with 10 they just kept coming at us and we just kept clearing the ball out.”
Clearing the ball out helped Portland gain an important insurance goal in the 92nd minute. Alex Morgan, who came in the game in the 71st minute, found an open Christine Sinclair, who made quick work of her opportunity and gave the Thorns a 2-0 cushion.
The rush was a result, in part, of the adjustment the Thorns had to make playing with just 10 players.
“You can’t just hang out up top,” Morgan said. “I was the lone forward playing 4-4-1. I had to drop back more, play a little bit more defensively but then run the balls down when we cleared it out. You just had to know that they were going to have a little bit more possession but still have that heart.”
It was the first loss for the Flash since a 3-2 loss to Seattle Reign FC on July 11. They were 9-1-2 in Sahlen’s Stadium heading into the championship game.
It was also the first loss in a championship game in four years. The Flash won the W-League title in 2010 and the WPS title in 2011. Last year they won the Women’s Premier Soccer League Elite championship.