NWSL's top teams face off Saturday for the title

ANNE M. PETERSON (AP Sports Writer)
FILE - In this April 15, 2017, file photo, Portland Thorns fans display a large sign and shields before an NWSL soccer match against the Orlando Pride in Portland, Ore. The Portland Thorns will play the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Orlando, Florida, for the National Women's Soccer League championship. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

The National Women's Soccer League championship game is the culmination of the Portland Thorns' season-long journey for redemption.

The Thorns won last season's Supporters' Shield and had home-field advantage for a semifinal match against the Western New York Flash.

Then the Flash - the league's fourth-place finishers led by former Portland coach Paul Riley - won 4-3. The Thorns' season abruptly ended, with a few players sobbing in disbelief.

Western New York went on to win the league title on penalties against the Washington Spirit. The Flash were sold and moved to North Carolina and named the Courage in the offseason.

The Thorns will meet the Courage in this season's league championship on Saturday in Orlando, Florida.

''I think our motto this year has been unfinished business,'' Thorns captain Christine Sinclair said Friday.

Earlier in the week, Portland coach Mark Parsons spoke about that loss and what it meant to the team.

''The thing that hurt me the most was just seeing the players, players crying on the field, senior players that have been at World Cups and Olympics crying on the field in front of their fans,'' he said. ''It was a heartbreaker.''

The Thorns' journey this year included a team-bonding trip to Astoria to start the season, a league-high 10 wins at home and then a 4-1 semifinal victory over the Orlando Pride. Amandine Henry, Emily Sonnett, Haley Raso and Sinclair all scored in the decisive victory at Providence Park.

In its semifinal, North Carolina defeated the Chicago Red Stars 1-0 on Denise O'Sullivan's goal in the 90th minute.

The Courage won the league's Supporters' Shield for the best regular-season record at 16-7-1. The team won its first four games this season and stayed atop the table for almost the rest of the way, led by Lynn Williams - last season's league MVP - with nine goals and five assists.

Sinclair, who plays for the Canadian national team, was Portland's top scorer this year with eight goals. Meghan Klingenberg had six assists.

No team has ever won the Supporters' Shield and the championship in the same season.

''To be able to make something happen for the first time in history would be absolutely amazing,'' said veteran forward Jess McDonald. ''It'd be epic.''

Courage coach Paul Riley said Saturday's game will be a matchup of the two stingiest defenses in the league. He said the experience of last year's title game helps his team.

''This year I think we're in a better place than we were, a little bit healthier that we were last year,'' he said. ''Really looking forward to it.''

Portland beat the Flash 2-0 to win the championship in the league's first season in 2013 . This season, the two teams split their two regular-season meetings.

The NWSL is wrapping up its historic fifth season. No other professional women's soccer league in the United States has lasted as long.

The league was boosted by a television deal that put games on Lifetime throughout the season. The network will televise Saturday's championship at Orlando City Stadium.