This week has been busy from a Portland Thorns perspective even though the team didn’t get to take the pitch and play a match. A canceled game kicked off this crazy weekend. The Thorns were supposed to host the Washington Spirit. What might have been one of the best attended matches of the NWSL season so far was called off because of COVID-19 health and safety protocol concerns on the Spirit.
The Thorns announced that they are working with the league to reschedule the match once health and safety protocols have been cleared. Hopefully, everyone on the Spirit is safe and healthy. I wish them a speedy recovery.
The postponement of the match meant that the Thorns went from a team that needed rest after playing five matches in 15 days to a team that needs matches. Portland last played on Aug. 29 and won’t play again until Sept. 12.
There is still no word as to how the league will handle the postponed match. Let’s think about the Washington Spirit match when it is rescheduled and when everyone is safe and healthy.
The Thorns will have had just under two weeks without a match when they take the field against the second-place North Carolina Courage. This match will have massive implications on the race for the NWSL Shield. The Thorns could extend their lead over the Courage to six points (with a game in hand), North Carolina could momentarily tie things up at the top of the table, or the teams could split the points.
Coach Mark Parsons has mentioned in media availabilities this season that when the Thorns, and teams in general, have tight turnarounds in the schedule the team is unable to work on making tactical adjustments as much as they might like. The attention of the staff and players is mostly focused on rest and recovery for the players.
This break could prove to be a vital point in the Thorns’ season. Portland has seven matches remaining in the season (not including the match against the Spirit) and it is going to be complicated down the stretch.
The Thorns will play North Carolina home and away, Houston home and away, Chicago away, OL Reign at home, and Kansas City away. And although the Thorns are still in first place there are always things to improve on and fine tune.
This period could be viewed as a mini preseason to improve and evolve as a team as the Thorns look to maintain the top spot in the league and make a final push down the stretch. Portland will need to be locked in for all of these matches, especially against the two teams in second and third place, the Courage and Reign.
The Thorns are yet to get a regular season result against either of these teams. Now it is even more important that Portland makes adjustments, play to their full potential, and take advantage of these three NWSL Shield “six-pointers” that will likely decide who wins the regular season.
The other big piece of Portland Thorns news from this weekend was announced on Sunday at halftime of the Orlando Pride’s match against the Houston Dash. NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird delivered the news on CBS that Providence Park would host the NWSL Championship for the third time.
Outrage ensued around the league. Non-Thorns Fans, players and coaches voiced their irritation about the kickoff time and that the match would be held on turf in a stadium that has played host to the championship on two prior occasions.
Great. Throw us on turf. Sounds like an awesome idea. what’s next another baseball field? https://t.co/HqojFhFvZd— Ashlyn Harris (@Ashlyn_Harris) September 6, 2021
Adding two new franchises next season with beautiful grass stadiums all around the country—moving in a great direction and then we choose turf to play the final of the best league in the world?! Wow. https://t.co/EPnGbgfWk0— Ali Krieger (@alikrieger) September 6, 2021
The league announced that the match would kickoff at 9:00 a.m. (Pacific). This is obviously not ideal for players, fans or anyone else involved. The anger about the start time is valid. These are top players in one of the best leagues in the world and the NWSL Championship should be showcased in primetime and broadcast nationally.
But sadly this absurd kickoff time isn’t unexpected and isn’t unprecedented. The NWSL has a deal with CBS. CBS’s Saturdays are booked throughout the fall with college football games and on Sundays, it’s the NFL. The 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup Final kicked off at 10:00 a.m. in Portland so that the match could be broadcast on CBS.
Yep, can confirm. College football is king every Saturday in the fall. Honestly kind of surprised that CBS is even giving the #NWSL the 12 pm ET time slot considering NCAA football games are played at that time, too. https://t.co/qyDYRQqyq9— Allison (Lee) Brown (@allibecc) September 6, 2021
Unfortunately for everyone involved the game was going to be scheduled early in the day if the league wanted its championship broadcast on national television. It’s likely the league basically had no say on the time the match would be played. That was decided by CBS. If the match was played elsewhere, the match could have kicked off at noon local time at the latest which is still not ideal.
The league accepted applications from teams that wanted to host the NWSL Championship. Portland obviously applied and was awarded the match. According to The Athletic’s Meg Linehan, Racing Louisville FC and the Orlando Pride also applied to host the NWSL Championship but withdrew their bids. Portland was literally the NWSL’s only option if they wanted a current NWSL team (who submitted an application) to host.
Have now confirmed via sources that both Louisville and Orlando bid for the final, but both withdrew their bids. Portland was the remaining option. #NWSL— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) September 6, 2021
The kickoff time is horrible and many players don’t like to play on turf but the Thorns submitted an application to host the championship when no one else did. The league’s hands were a bit tied on this and almost completely tied on the timing of the match.
The Thorns players and staff were obviously ecstatic about the news. They may have the chance to play in the title game and will host the NWSL Championship. There shouldn’t be any extra motivation needed to win a title or win a title in your coach’s final match with the club. But having the chance to do all of this at home is a great opportunity. Not to mention the importance the Portland fans could have in the match.
Portland now has the potential to host the Thorns’ third title match of the season. It will be extremely difficult to get to the championship match but it is a huge opportunity and something to strive for. And although the Thorns are probably irritated by the timing of the match just like the rest of the league, I can imagine all of these tweets about why Providence Park and the Thorns shouldn’t be hosting the championship match are being bookmarked and printed. It could serve as even more motivation when it comes time to challenge for a spot in the final.
The Thorns are in the home stretch of the NWSL season. They have already conquered the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup and the Women’s International Champions Cup in Providence Park. The team has said from the outset that the goal is to win every trophy up for grabs this season.
This period is crucial if Portland is to make that goal a reality. The Thorns have a unique opportunity to rest and fine tune before heading into the most important stretch of the season and they need to take advantage of it.
Regardless of how you feel about the venue selection, the timing, the turf, etc., the Thorns have another unique opportunity. They will have the chance to play the NWSL Championship in their own stadium if they can advance to the final.
The unfortunate kickoff time aside - people have voiced their displeasure about the final being played on turf and that Providence Park will be hosting the match for the third time. All the noise surrounding this is bulletin board material, or better yet, bonfire building material, that can be used by the Thorns as another thing to rally around when the going gets tough toward the end of the season and in the playoffs.
There are plenty of unique opportunities for the Portland Thorns to take advantage of and if they do so, they could make this the most unique season in Thorns’ and league history.