Current’s season ends with loss in NWSL championship

The No. 5 Kansas City Current’s historic 2022 campaign concluded Saturday night with a 2-0 loss to the No. 2 Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League Championship in Washington, D.C.

Thorns forward and 2022 NWSL MVP Sophia Smith opened the scoring with a goal in the fourth minute, and Portland doubled its advantage with an own goal scored in the 56th minute. Current goalkeeper A.D. Franch recorded five saves in the contest.

“All losses at this stage in the season are tough to manage,” head coach Matt Potter said. “But, again, I point to the way the group just still tried to carry the cause for the people in the stands, to represent Kansas City in the appropriate manner. I couldn’t be prouder for that.”

Making its fourth all-time appearance in an NWSL Championship, a seasoned Thorns squad used its experience in the early going to take a 1-0 lead.

After a few early Portland chances were blocked by Kansas City’s defense, the Thorns sprung a counterattack after a Current turnover in the fourth minute. Forward Rocky Rodriguez sent a long ball forward that Smith ran on to, and she evaded Kansas City’s back line to set up a one-on-one opportunity against Franch. Smith dribbled around Franch and slotted the ball into an empty net to open the scoring. Smith nearly doubled Portland’s lead 10 minutes later, but her curling effort from inside the penalty area went just wide.

Kansas City began to grow into the match following Smith’s near goal in the 14th minute and started to apply pressure on Portland’s back line. The team’s best chance of the opening half and the match came in the 34th minute. After winning a foul near midfield, Current midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta took the ensuing free kick quickly and pushed the ball out wide to defender Hailie Mace. Mace lobbed a cross to the back post to fellow defender Kate Del Fava, who met the ball with her head and looped a header over the head of Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby. However, the effort narrowly sailed over the crossbar to keep the match at 1-0.

The Current continued to push for an equalizer as the first half wore on. Midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta had a shot from outside the penalty area blocked in first-half stoppage time which led to a Current corner, but nothing came of the opportunity and Portland maintained a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.

Smith again nearly doubled Portland’s lead in the opening seconds of the second half after racing through Kansas City’s back line and firing a shot at goal, but Franch stood tall to make the save. Unfortunately, Kansas City’s defense was breached minutes later with a goal that secured Portland’s championship. In the 56th minute, Portland midfielder Yazmeen Ryan raced down the right side of the pitch and sent a dangerous low cross to the center of the penalty area. As Franch dove to punch the cross away, defender Addisyn Merrick attempted to clear the ball. The two collided, and the ball snuck past Franch and into the goal to double the Thorns’ lead.

Franch, making her fourth appearance in an NWSL Championship, made several important saves over the last 30-plus minutes to help keep the match at 2-0. Most notably, Franch soared to make an incredible diving stop to pick a strike from Thorns midfielder Hina Sugita out of the top corner in the 71st minute. Offensively, Kansas City went with a more attacking look after going down 2-0, but an extra forward on the pitch wasn’t enough to spark a comeback. Portland won the match and the 2022 NWSL title 2-0.

“I love this team because of the love we have for each other,” midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta said as she reflected on the season in her post-game press conference. “It hurts because Kansas City showed up for sure and we played for them…the future is so bright for this team, and we turned it around. I don’t think anyone will sleep on this team anymore.”

Despite the defeat, the Current had an incredible season in 2022 that saw it make history both on and off the pitch. Kansas City made the semifinals of the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup for the first time in franchise history, recorded the second-longest unbeaten streak (13 matches) in NWSL history and went on a historic postseason run that concluded with the team’s first-ever appearance in the NWSL Championship.

Community Impact Award

At halftime, the National Women’s Soccer League in partnership with Nationwide announced that the Kansas City Current and Global FC are the recipients of the 2022 Nationwide Community Impact Award, a season-long, community-focused initiative that promotes community partners and local service projects chosen and led by each NWSL club. In addition to the award, Global FC will receive $25,000 to support their organization’s efforts, using soccer to bridge socioeconomic disparities between communities through the formation of an inclusive sports culture.

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