Crystal Dunn sends Portland Thorns to 2022 NWSL Championship with stoppage time goal

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It looked like Sunday’s NWSL semifinal between the Portland Thorns and the San Diego Wave was heading into overtime.

Walk in Crystal Dunn.

In the 93rd minute, Dunn scored a fine goal, his first of the season (video below). The 30-year-old gave birth to a son marcel in May and made his official return to NWSL competition last month.

2022 NWSL Playoffs: Semi-final schedule, how to watch, results

“It’s really hard for me to accept that five months ago I gave birth,” Dunn said, noting that she plans to spend the entire 2022 season on maternity leave.

“There was a part of me that thought, maybe I just take the rest of this year, maybe I hit the reset and start over in 2023. But for me, I always wanted finish this year in the best possible way and it was extremely hard work to get back on the pitch.

When told Dunn gave birth just 156 days ago, Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson joked, “I have food in my fridge that’s older than this.”

While Wilkinson hailed Dunn’s quick return to the field as “incredible”, she added, “I also don’t want other mothers in the league now to think they have to do what Crystal Dunn did.”

With the 2-1 win, Thorns clinched a place in next Saturday’s game NWSL Championship game in Washington, DC. They will face the winner of Sunday’s other semi-final (OL Reign vs. Kansas City Current).

San Diego started on Sunday. At the eighth minute, Alex Morgan found Taylor Kornieck to put San Diego ahead 1-0 (video below).

Just 12 minutes later, the Thorns made up for it with an incredible goal from Rocky Rodriguez (video below).

“I was crazy,” Rodríguez said of their early 1-0 defeat. “We’re on our pitch, it’s a semi-final, and it wasn’t happening yet…that’s why scoring that goal was really nice.”

A crowd of 22,035 attended Portland’s Providence Park — the second-highest attendance in NWSL playoff history — and behind last week’s record of 26,215 set by San Diego.

Thorns players asked fans to come forward after the release of the Yates report, which included overwhelming evidence that the Portland front office failed to act after the former coach Paul Riley was charged with harassment and sexual coercion.

“Seeing our supporters pack the stadium, let us know (sic) that you are carrying this heavy burden WITH us,” said the Thorns keeper. Bella Bixby posted on Twitter ahead of Sunday’s semi-final. “You can see that showing up on game day is an act of solidarity with the women on the pitch who are time and again punished for the actions of others.”

“(Portland) was a trailblazer for women’s football in so many ways, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to fight to do better or let it all go. We have to criticize her perpetually,” the Midfielder Sam Coffey said on its territory, referencing a James Baldwin quote.

Some fans showed up with a message for the current owner of Thorns/Timbers Merritt Paulson: “Sell the clubs.”

Following the release of the Yates Report, Paulson resigned as CEO of both organizations. But fan groups and some players – as good as Oregon’s three gubernatorial candidates – asked Paulson to sell the teams as well.

PORTLAND, OREGON – A Portland Thorns fan holds up a sign that reads “SELL CLUBS” during the NWSL Semifinals between the Thorns and San Diego Wave at Providence Park. (Photo by Amanda Loman/Getty Images)

With Casey Stoney (San Diego) and Wilkinson (Portland) leading their respective teams, Sunday’s semifinal marked the first time in NWSL history that two head coaches faced each other in a playoff game.

“I didn’t know that,” Wilkinson said of the stat.

“I’ve been a really big Casey’s fan and I think she’s done an amazing job…Hopefully she’ll be around for a long time.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC



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