Christine Sinclair has seen the arc of the National Women’s Soccer League since her first day.
The Canadian forward has been playing for the Portland Thorns since the league’s first season in 2013. The Thorns won the title that year.
He is still with the Thorns as the team prepares for Saturday’s NWSL championship game in Washington DC against the Kansas City Current.
Sinclair, who won a gold medal with Canada at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, has been an eyewitness to the growth of the league and indeed women’s soccer in general. Audi Field is nearly sold out for the game, which will be televised in prime time at 8:00 PM ET on CBS.
“I was lucky enough to play in the first championship game, and I don’t think anyone outside of Portland knew the game was happening. So that’s what this league deserves, that’s what the players deserve,” said Sinclair, the all-time leading scorer in men’s and women’s soccer. “In women’s sports in general, you need to have a shot. People are going to watch, people will come if they get the chance. For this game to be in prime time on a major network, it’s only going to continue to expand to continue to inspire young viewers.”
Nevertheless, this season has been challenging. The NWSL was rocked earlier this month by an investigation that found systemic abuse and misconduct involving multiple teams, coaches and victims.
The investigation, led by former acting US Attorney General Sally Yates, was launched by US Soccer last year after two former players came forward with allegations of harassment and sexual assault against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.
Riley, who was fired, denied the allegations. He was one of five coaches in the league who were fired or resigned last year amid allegations of misconduct.
Yates’ report details how the Thorns mishandled complaints about Riley when he coached the team in 2014-15. Following the report, the Thorns fired two team executives. However, some fans have called for owner Merritt Paulson to sell both the Thorns and the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer.
“This year was of course interesting for us. But with the help of the staff, we were able to come together as a team, come together as a unit and just focus on playing games. There’s only so much we can control and that’s what we do on the football field. That’s what we focused on,” Sinclair said.
HOW THEY GET HERE
Crystal Dunn came off the bench to score in stoppage time to give the Thorns a 2-1 win over the San Diego Wave in the league semifinals last Sunday to clinch a championship berth.
Alexis Loera and Kristen Hamilton scored in Current’s 2-0 win over top-seeded OL Reign, surprising this season’s Supporters Shield winners.
The Thorns have won two NWSL championships, in 2013 and 2017.
The Current began play in 2021 as an expansion team, with many of its players coming from the defunct Utah Royals. They finished last in the league last season.
The Washington Spirit won the 2021 NWSL Championship.
STATE OF THE LEAGUE
The NWSL, in cooperation with the NWSL Players Association, is awaiting the results of its own investigation into misconduct.
NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said the league’s top priority is its partnership with and leadership from the players.
“There is nothing more important than fulfilling our promise to them and to others that these players deserve and will play in a league they feel proud to play in and provide them with a healthy and safe environment to reach their full potential,” Berman said . he said.
She said there is no timetable for the investigation to be thorough.
“For this league to heal and for these players to trust the league and the future direction of the NWSL, they need to know that this is the only priority of the joint investigation. And so that will continue to be our position despite the fact that a lot of people want us to do and say more,” she said. “There will come a time when we talk about corrective action and systemic reform.”
As part of the league’s championship week, the NWSL handed out regular season awards.
Thorns striker Sophia Smith has been named the 2022 Most Valuable Player after scoring a club-record 14 goals.
Naomi Girma of the expansion San Diego Wave won the Rookie of the Year and Defenseman of the Year awards. Wave Coach Casey Stoney was named Coach of the Year and Kailen Sheridan was named Goaltender of the Year. Forward Alex Morgan won the Golden Boot with 15 goals in the regular season.
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