Reporting from Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.
Two seasons, two playoff berths. On Saturday, San Diego Wave FC defeated Portland Thorns FC, 2-0 at Providence Park became the first team to clinch a playoff berth in a chaotic 2023 National Women’s Soccer League season. It is the Wave’s second straight playoff berth after beginning play as an expansion team last season.
The Thorns and Wave entered Saturday as the top two teams in the league, respectively, and an outright win for either squad would have secured a playoff berth.
San Diego came out on their front foot and some brilliant chemistry between Jaedyn Shaw and Kyra Carusa put the Wave up early. Later in the first half, Wave defender Christen Westphal was able to find the head of Alex Morgan in the box to end Morgan’s scoring drought and put San Diego up 2-0. The San Diego defense, with some brilliant saves from goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan kept the Thorns at bay until the final whistle.
“I can’t speak highly enough of my squad tonight,” said San Diego head coach Casey Stoney on the win. “I think they bought in, they were engaged, they were focused. They worked so hard, and I thought they deserved the win tonight… Now it’s about that mentality next week, because yes we clinched playoffs, great, but what can we now achieve? That’s the standard that we’ve set tonight and really, really proud of them.”
Morgan’s 38th minute goal marked her first goal in any competition — club or country — since May, an unexpected lull coming from last year’s NWSL Golden Boot winner.
“The conversations have been, it’ll come — sometimes it doesn’t matter how it comes, in a little bit of luck, and there was a little bit of luck on that turf tonight and she’ll take it,” Stoney said after the match. “She wasn’t happy to come off [the field] at all. And that’s a sign of a player that wants to play and she was hungry and determined still… So, I think she contributed what she needed to contribute tonight. She’s a world-class player and the goals will come you know, I’m just pleased she’s able to get on the on the score sheet and you know it wasn’t gonna wasn’t gonna last forever because she’s a world class player.”
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Portland head coach Mike Norris conceded that the”[f]irst half performance just wasn’t anywhere near where it needed to be at this stage in the season against our closest rival; nowhere near who we think we are and who we want to be.”
Despite the disappointing result for the Thorns, they still are in a great position in the table and can potentially clinch a playoff spot next weekend while hosting Gotham FC.
For the Wave, all roads lead back to San Diego. They have their spot in the playoffs — and the final is on their home field at Snapdragon Stadium on Nov. 11.
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