Portland Thorns FC will play their last match of 2020 today, and that’s a somewhat surreal thing to write for many reasons. It’s surreal because it feels both too short and miraculously long. In a year with so many challenges, it surely was difficult at times to imagine any NWSL soccer actually happening.
But here we are in October with the Thorns one win away from taking the Fall Series. They play their final match against OL Reign tonight and are second in the standings. With a win, they can overtake the Houston Dash and earn the top spot. And the fact they have the chance to do so in the first place is something everyone is thankful for.
“I’m very thankful that we got a season, even though it wasn’t that long,” forward Morgan Weaver said. “I’m very thankful that we get this because no many other teams are able to do it and for the NWSL to be able to get these games is awesome.”
These matches in 2020 have overall been productive for Portland, especially in the Fall Series. After struggling to take off during the Challenge Cup, the Thorns seem to have launched. They scored three goals in their first match against Utah Royals FC and four goals against OL Reign. While they only scored once against a better prepared Royals squad the second time around, they didn’t let Utah’s defense stifle them entirely.
All these bode well for the future, and the future has really been the focus of this year. Winning this whole thing would be nice, but the goal for Mark Parsons and company has always been to build a foundation for next season. The growth has been solid these past few weeks, and Portland’s ready to move forward.
“This whole year has felt like a stop-start preseason, and we’re ready to go and play regular season right now,” Parsons said on Thursday. That’s an apt comparison for the most part. They’ve had to spend most of this year adjusting to a fairly new roster while dealing with injuries to notable players like Sophia Smith. This increasingly strange year has always felt like the build up to something bigger.
“Despite all our positivity and optimism there’s definitely been adversity and there’s definitely been lots of challenges, which creates more excitement for the future,” Parsons said. “We talked about how important our culture and the foundation [are], the foundation of our identity, making it very clear that we know our identity and everyone that we know our identity and everyone that plays against us knows our identity.”
They’ve made their identity know, and now they have one more match to show off what Thorns soccer will look like for the future. They’ve only played two matches in the Fall Series, but it hasn’t been great for the Reign. They’re 0-1-1 (W-L-D) and like Portland haven’t had a truly healthy roster for the series. But every match is different, as last Saturday’s matchup against Utah showed. For Portland, they’ll just have to see what OL Reign is giving them and go from there.
“To simplify, we want to make sure we attack and defend how we want to attack and defend,” Parsons said. “Can our group in this game show our identity with our style of play or our mentality.”
We’ll see if they can do so tonight. But whatever happens, we’ll look forward to a hopefully brighter 2021.