Published August 30, 2013
NEW YORK – Abby Wambach vs. Alex Morgan in the championship game plays to script.
Scoring sensation Morgan of the Portland Thorns is expected to compete in the final Saturday night against the Western New York Flash despite a knee injury that's kept her sidelined for two weeks.
Wambach and Morgan were the stars of the gold medal-winning U.S. soccer team at the London Olympics last summer. Now the veteran Wambach, the most prolific scorer in international soccer with 160 goals, will square off against heir apparent Morgan in the finale of the National Women's Soccer League.
The inaugural NWSL title game will be nationally televised at 8 p.m. Saturday on FOX Sports 2. The match will be played at Sahlen's Stadium in Wambach's hometown of Rochester, N.Y.
Morgan sprained her left knee after landing awkwardly in a loss to Boston on Aug. 7. She's the co-leading scorer (8 goals) for Portland, which averaged more than 13,000 fans at Jeld-Wen Field this summer.
Morgan made the trip but did not play last weekend when the Thorns rallied from 2-0 down for a 3-2 overtime win in the semifinal at FC Kansas City.
Wambach tallied 11 goals this season for the Flash, one behind league leader Lauren Holiday of FC Kansas City. The Flash advanced to the final thanks to two goals by Carli Lloyd in the 2-0 win over Sky Blue FC.
Here are five things to know about the title game, league MVP Lauren Holiday and '99er Julie Foudy's take on the third incarnation of women's professional soccer.
SOCCER HAVEN: The Thorns traveled some 2,700 miles from their soccer-crazed town, where they drew 16,479 in their home opener April 21 against Seattle. They topped that with a record 17,619 fans in their regular-season finale Aug. 4 against FC Kansas City.
The team shares Jeld-Wen Field with the Portland Timbers of MLS. Soccer great Mia Hamm attended a game and called it "an amazing atmosphere" full of cheering and singing. The Timbers, owned by Merritt Paulson, are the only MLS club to support a women's team in their new league.
The Thorns averaged 13,320 fans in 11 home games, ranking second all-time for a season in U.S. women's pro soccer. It trails only Hamm's former team, the Washington Freedom, which averaged 14,421 in 2001.
MATCHUPS: Portland coach Cindy Parlow Cone says Morgan has been practicing all week. "If there's no swelling in the knee and she's good to go, we'll play her."
Cone knows the Thorns will need to contain Wambach and midfielder Lloyd (8 goals). "Abby is world-class in the air. But she's great at laying the ball off and we need an accounting for her at all times."
Lloyd calls Morgan and Canadian star Christine Sinclair (8 goals) "very dangerous players," but likes Western New York's chances in the final at home.
"We're hungry and gritty, we have the blue-collar work mentality. Collectively, we all have a great time with one another and that translates to the field."
Flash coach Aaran Lines says their eight-game unbeaten streak "helped put us in a good spot. Players are peaking and playing confident at the right time."
The teams split their two meetings during the regular season (1-1 at Portland; 0-0 at New York).
Said Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc: "The biggest thing going into a championship game is belief. It's about paying attention to little things so we don't give them opportunities."
Portland boasts the best road record in the league at 6-2-3; the Flash are tops at home at 8-1-2.
LEAGUE MVP: Holiday of FC Kansas City was voted MVP of the league, followed in voting by Wambach and Lori Chalupny of the Chicago Red Stars. Holiday led the league in goals (12) and assists (9) and guided KC to second place behind New York. The U.S. national team player out of UCLA had at least a goal or an assist in 10 consecutive games and played every minute in 18 games. Lauren Cheney married NBA star Jrue Holiday last month.
FUN FACTS: Morgan's second book "Sabotage Season" will come out Sept. 3. Morgan has more than 1 million followers on Twitter and the California native enjoys tennis, snowboarding and wakeboarding. ... Portland coach Cone is a former member of the U.S. national team and teammate of Hamm and Foudy. ... Wambach and Morgan will help guide the U.S. national team in a match against Mexico on Tuesday. Fifteen NWSL players are on the 18-player U.S. roster for that game.
FOUDY'S WORLD: The U.S. Soccer Federation, plus the Canadian and Mexican federations, are partly financing the eight-team NWSL. The federations help with salary and front office expenses, taking some of the burden off owners.
Foudy played in the first women's pro league, the WUSA, and likes the NWSL's business model.
"The model is the healthiest we've seen because of that support," Foudy said. "Now you have to show you can sustain it. You see what a difference having a Merritt Paulson makes — already they have an incredible franchise on their MLS side.
"To bring in an owner who has the infrastructure, who has the staff, who has a lot of the stadiums, that makes a world of difference."