Portland Thorns say thank you to their fans

Portland Thorns say thank you to their fans

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — After just one season, the Portland Thorns have something that their male counterparts, the Timbers, still covet: a championship.

The Thorns celebrated the first National Women's Soccer League championship with more than 500 fans at Jeld-Wen Field on Wednesday.

Although some of the team's stars — including Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair — were whisked off to national team duty and other obligations following Saturday's victory in the championship game in New York, that didn't seem to dampen enthusiasm.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales was among those who thanked the team.

"This team never wavered. They never lost sight of the goal, and that was to win the championship," coach Cindy Parlow-Cone said. "And they did it!"

The Thorns blanked the Western New York Flash 2-0 for the inaugural NWSL title before 9,129 fans at Sahlen Stadium in Rochester, N.Y. Tobin Jeath and Sinclair each scored for the Thorns.

Portland's Kathryn Williamson was ejected in the 56th minute and the Thorns had to go the rest of the match a player down, but the Flash were unable to capitalize. Portland goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc made seven saves in the short-handed win.

Sinclair headed directly to the few dozen vocal Thorns supporters stationed behind the goal to celebrate and blow kisses after effectively sealing the first year team's championship.

"People are just so thankful and appreciative," LeBlanc said during a break from signing autographs. "You dream about winning a championship but you never prepare yourself for something like this."

Defender Rachel Buehler flew in for the event from Washington D.C., where she played in the U.S. women's national team victory over Mexico on Tuesday. Buehler had a goal in the 7-0 victory.

"It was such a journey this season," she said. "I think what made it special was how the whole team came together."

The eight-team National Women's Soccer League, in its first season, is a pro league involving the United States, Canadian and Mexican soccer federations.

The Thorns were the league's biggest hit attendance-wise, with an average of more than 13,300 fans per match. Portland's attendance skewed the average attendance for the league, but the median attendance was just over 3,000 fans a game.

There have been two other recent attempts at a women's pro league in the United States, but both failed after just two seasons: The Women's United Soccer Association was founded in 2000, hoping to capitalize on the U.S. national team's victory in the 1999 World Cup, but the league folded in 2003. Another league, Women's Professional Soccer, played from 2010-2012 but had insurmountable internal organizational and financial issues.

The NWSL believes it is better positioned to succeed because of its association with the North American soccer federations, which pay the salaries of their national team players to help keep costs down.

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