PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
I've been trying to gather my thoughts on the past week and a half of NWSL soccer – a time over which we saw the International Champions Cup (which I was at), the Women's Cup (which I wasn't), and a handful of non-tournament-affiliated NWSL games (which also featured the return of every team's Olympians).
I can't tell how much of the "being overwhelmed and also having a blast" vibes are a me thing. There's been a lot going on with the league and then there was a lot of soccer, so it might be a common feeling.
There's a lot to be said about the state of the NWSL right now, but that's definitely a separate story. And there's a couple (more positive) takeaways from the ICC as well, though it's a less cohesive story overall.
Maybe it's because I don't follow European soccer as closely, but I think it took me some time to fully grasp the implications of the ICC. One of which is that it's just really cool that we get to see the Thorns and Dash each face off against one of the best club teams in Europe.
I think my favorite part is the implication of an international tournament: there's an international investment in club teams that's usually only reserved for the Champions League and women's national teams. And it didn't hurt that the soccer itself was fun.
I won't be the first to write that the Portland Thorns beating Olympique Lyonnais in the ICC final – and Racing Louisville besting Bayern Munich in penalties in the Women's Cup – isn't a testament to the NWSL being better than top European teams. But seeing the Thorns beat OL in front of a Providence Park crowd – in a game that saw a Morgan Weaver goal and Sophia Smith wreaking havoc against world-class defenders – was very, very fun.
It wasn't just the final though: before the Thorns took on OL, we saw a surprisingly less-direct Houston Dash fall 3-2 to Barcelona in the third place match.
And before that, we had a gameday featuring a very good 3-2 Lyon win over Barcelona and the Thorns besting the Dash in a less high-quality but absolutely wild match that went to a penalty kick shootout. (Those of us in the press box were very hyped about Shelby Hogan's three penalty saves in her first appearance for Portland.)
"The momentum of the team and everything everybody was saying before, I think it carried all of us," said Olivia Moultrie, who tallied a goal and an assist in regulation and buried her penalty in the shootout, afterwards in the mixed zone. "The adrenaline was just over the moon."
I can't really speak to what was going on in the stands, but the event was definitely sold as an American sporting experience in a way we don't normally see in Providence Park. To specify: I don't think I've ever seen an on-field announcer trying to entertain the fans before games and during halftime, and I've definitely never seen a flex cam or an air guitar cam at a Portland soccer game. I know some people had strong feelings about it, but the novelty of it was hilarious enough to me that I did feel like it added to the overall energized chaos of the tournament.