With two championships in seven seasons, the Portland Thorns were already the city's most decorated professional sports franchise—and this coming weekend, they'll also be Portland's only pro-sports franchise currently playing.
With its Challenge Cup, the National Women's Soccer League becomes the first American sports league to return in the wake of COVID-19. The Thorns will start it off, taking on the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, June 27, at the NFL-like time of 9:30 am.
Of course, it won't be anywhere near Providence Park, let alone in front of fans. All the teams are sequestered in suburban Salt Lake City for the tournament, with the championship game set for July 26.
Got questions? Us too.
What’s the Challenge Cup?
It took COVID-19 to make American professional soccer more like other countries, where winning a stand-alone tournament or regular-season title carries just as much weight—if not more—than winning "the playoffs." Each team will play four games for seeding purposes, with the quarterfinals starting July 17. Given the Thorns' playoff history—two championships, one additional finals appearance and one NWSL Shield for best regular-season record—it would be disappointing if they weren't in the championship, presumably against the Courage, which has been to the NWSL finals the past three seasons, twice against the Thorns. But tournament soccer—especially under these circumstances—is unpredictable.
How do I watch?
The first game is on actual broadcast network television: CBS. So is the championship. In between, you'll need a CBS All Access streaming subscription, which you may already have if you love Star Trek and/or Tom Selleck. Otherwise, it's $5.95 a month, though a one-month trial is free with a promo code—do what you will with that information. Of course, supporter culture is as much a part of watching soccer as the game itself. Now that bars and restaurants are reopened in Multnomah County, Thorns fans have a few options for gathering with others. The Toffee Club on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, for one, plans to show later Thorns games at its current limited capacity, with reservations required. This weekend, however, the English men's FA Cup takes precedence.
Who should I watch for?
There are a lot of new faces on the 2020 Thorns, including former NWSL Rookie of the Year Rocky Rodriguez, defender Becky Sauerbrunn and rookie Sophia Smith, who was drafted No. 1 overall out of Stanford. Returning faces include goaltender Adrianna Franch and midfielder Lindsey Horan—all also members of the 2019 World Cup-winning U.S. Women's National Team—and longtime defender Emily Menges. Plus, of course, University of Portland legend Christine Sinclair and coach Mark Parsons.
Who won’t be there?
Well, the Orlando Pride, for one: On Monday afternoon, the team dropped out of the tournament completely, due to positive coronavirus tests among both players and staff. Even before that, other individual players, including superstar Megan Rapinoe, were expected to sit Utah out, and Thorns star Tobin Heath. The news out of Orlando could change a few more players' minds—or even threaten the entire tournament.
The Timbers are supposed to begin a similar tournament in—gulp—Orlando on July 8.
WATCH IT: Portland Thorns vs. North Carolina Courage begins at 9:30 am Saturday, June 27, on CBS.