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Gotham goalkeeper stuns Thorns’ Sophia Smith in NWSL semifinal win

Gotham FC goalkeeper Mandy Haught stunned the Providence Park crowd with her stop on Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith. (Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

Portland Thorns star Sophia Smith fought off two Gotham FC defenders and charged down the rain-soaked field toward opposing goalkeeper Mandy Haught. With the scoreless match on her foot, Smith sprinted closer and closer to Haught. But Haught reached her first.

The Gotham netminder threw herself at Smith’s feet and robbed the MVP candidate of the ball, killing the Thorns’ best scoring chance of the game and helping to secure her team’s 1-0 victory over the No. 2 seed Thorns in extra time at Portland’s Providence Park.

“I saw Crystal, I saw Soph, and I was like, ‘OK, let’s make something happen,’” Haught said. “On the pass, I was just ready, I was balanced to go forward. … I wanted to command my box and come out there strong, and that’s exactly what I did.”

With the win, Haught and No. 6 seed Gotham advance to the NWSL Championship at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Nov. 11, at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium. The 2023 final will be the first in franchise history for the New Jersey-based club, which won its first playoff match in the first round over the North Carolina Courage.

Portland spent the majority of the first half on the defensive, with Gotham maintaining possession almost 70% of the time. The Thorns were able to even out the possession through the rest of the match. But, after not playing together for three weeks due to their first-round bye and then the international break, Portland was unable to stall New York’s momentum.

Gotham’s stifling defense limited scoring chances for the Thorns, holding them to three shots on target and six scoring chances total. Each time Portland got the ball into New York’s third, Gotham had an answer.

“We did such an amazing job at regaining the ball in the middle, we doubled down and we had back pressure,” Haught said. “And that was just incredible fight from everyone on the team to press from behind and from the front. And that is really how we were able to stop a lot of their transitions and attacks.”

Haught’s stop of Smith in the 79th minute helped to force extra time.

And in the 107th minute, Katie Stengel netted the game-winning goal for Gotham — a boot through traffic into the top left corner of the cage. But it was Gotham’s scrappy defense that put the reigning NWSL champions away and extended captain Ali Kreiger’s career.

“It literally has taken everyone this year to get to where we are,” Haught said. “It’s just the amazing camaraderie in this group that’s just like, ‘We’re going to do this for us, we’re going to do this for Kriegs, we’re not done yet and we’re going to go all the way.”