Soccer-Thorns beat Gotham FC on penalties to win Challenge Cup

(Reuters) - Portland goalie Adrianna Franch made a diving one-handed save and Morgan Weaver fired home the game winner as the Thorns beat NJ/NY Gotham FC in a penalty shootout to win the NWSL Challenge Cup in Portland on Saturday.

The Thorns took the lead in the eighth minute when Christine Sinclair stole the ball from Carli Lloyd and tucked it into the far post for a 1-0 advantage in front of about 3,800 fans allowed into Providence Park amid easing COVID-19 restrictions.

The star-studded Thorns squad led by Lindsey Horan dominated the rest of the first half and the beginning of the second but were unable to extend their lead.

Gotham FC, previously known as Sky Blue FC, equalized on Lloyd's leaping header from close range in the 61st minute to swing the momentum her team's way.

Both sides had opportunities down the stretch but Gotham FC keeper Dijana Haracic and match MVP Franch made clutch saves to send the game to penalties, where Weaver calmly drilled her shot home to claim the trophy for Portland.

"Wow, wow, wow, look at everyone here," Weaver said in a self-shot video from the field after the game.

"So awesome of you guys to be here, so happy to celebrate with you, such a great game. So happy we won and remember - go Thorns always."

Last year's inaugural Challenge Cup was played inside a bio-secure bubble due to the pandemic.

At the time it was thought to be a one-off, pre-season tournament but the NWSL decided to turn it into an annual event after it drew record-breaking viewership for the league.

The NWSL season kicks off on May 16.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Hugh Lawson)