The 2023 NWSL Championship pits OL Reign against Gotham FC. The league is guaranteed to crown a new champion, as neither franchise has ever won the title before.
In honor of this year’s championship match, Just Women’s Sports takes a look back at the nine previous winners.
The Thorns won their league-leading third championship, fending off the Kansas City Current in the title game.
After finishing second in the league standings with a 10-9-3 record, Portland received a first-round bye as a result, then beat the expansion San Diego Wave in the semifinals. The 2-1 victory included a goal from Rocky Rodriguez and a stoppage-time winner by Crystal Dunn, who had only recently returned from maternity leave.
The 2-0 win over Kansas City in the final included a memorable goal (and celebration) from Sophia Smith as well as an own goal in the 56th minute. Smith – who became the youngest player to win league MVP that year – also was named Finals MVP.
The Washington Spirit won their first title after finishing the regular season in third place with an 11-6-7 record. Ashley Hatch won the league’s Golden Boot that year with 10 total goals.
Hatch provided the stoppage-time winner for Washington in its first-round match against the North Carolina Courage. In the semifinals, goals from Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez sent OL Reign packing in a 2-1 win. The Spirit faced the Chicago Red Stars in the championship, with Kelley O’Hara providing the stoppage-time winner.
Note: The NWSL did not hold a regular season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, teams competed in the first iteration of the Challenge Cup tournament, which was won by the Houston Dash.
The Courage won the second of their back-to-back titles after also winning the Shield in both seasons. They finished the regular season with 49 points and a 15-4-5 record while also gathering an astounding +31 goal differential – more than double that of second-place Chicago. Lynn Williams was once again the team’s leading scorer with 12 goals.
The Courage beat the Reign, 4-1, in the semifinals thanks to goals from Heather O’Reilly, Debinha and Crystal Dunn, as well as an own goal from the opposing team. And then they topped the Red Stars, 4-0, in the championship game, with Debinha, Dunn, Jessica McDonald and Sam Mewis all getting in on the scoring.
North Carolina won the title and the Shield after finishing the regular season with a 17-6-1 record, 15 points ahead of the second-place Thorns. Goals from Jessica McDonald and Sam Mewis in the semifinal round propelled the team to a 2-0 win over Chicago.
The Courage went on to beat Portland, 3-0, in the final off a McDonald brace and a goal from Debinha. Lynn Williams finished as the team’s leading scorer with 14 goals, while McDonald ranked first in the league in assists.
Portland’s second NWSL title came four years after its first. The team was led in goals by Christine Sinclair, who had eight on the season. The Thorns finished second in the league in the regular season with a 14-5-5 record, two points behind the North Carolina Courage.
A 4-1 win over the Orlando Pride in the semifinals set up a clash with the Courage in the championship, which Portland won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Lindsey Horan in the 50th minute.
The Western New York Flash won the title in 2016 after finishing the regular season fourth in the NWSL standings and barely sneaking into the playoffs. They beat out the Reign for the final playoff spot by two points, finishing with a 9-5-6 record – winning just one more game than Seattle. Lynn Williams was the leading scorer for the team and the league with 11 goals.
The playoffs that season featured extra time in every single game played, with New York beating Portland in the semifinals, 4-3, thanks to a stoppage-time winning brace from Williams.
The Flash would go on to face the Washington Spirit in the final, which finished in a 2-2 tie after regulation and extra time off goals from Williams and Sam Mewis and Williams for New York and a Crystal Dunn brace for Washington. The Flash took home the title with a 3-2 win in the penalty shootout.
For the second year in a row, the Reign won the Shield and FC Kansas City won the NWSL title, with the Seattle club finishing as the runner-up. Kansas City finished third in the regular season with a 9-5-6 record, led by Crystal Dunn who had 15 goals.
They beat Chicago in the semifinal, with a brace from Rocky Rodriguez propelling them to a 3-0 win. Rodriguez would play hero again in the championship game, scoring the game’s lone goal in a 1-0 win for Kansas City. This marked the Reign’s last appearance in the NWSL championship until 2023.
FC Kansas City won the first of their two NWSL titles in 2014, finishing the season second in league standings with 41 points and a 12-5-7 record. The Reign were far and away the best team of the regular season with 54 points and a +30 goal differential.
Kansas City beat Portland, 2-0, in the semifinal round, setting up a championship showdown between the two best teams of the regular season. Rocky Rodriguez netted a brace to give Kansas City the 2-1 win.
Portland’s winning history in the NWSL dates back to the first-ever league championship, with star players including Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath gracing the field for the club.
The Thorns beat FC Kansas City in the semifinal round and then Shield winners Western New York Flash, 2-0, in the championship match to take home the title off goals from Heath and Sinclair.