Emily Menges,  Thorns vs. Seattle, 9.15.18

PORTLAND, Ore. -- One win away from a third star above the crest, Portland Thorns FC returned to the field on Tuesday, resuming training ahead of a Saturday match (1:30pm PT, Lifetime) that will be historic, regardless of the outcome.

For the first time since the National Women’s Soccer League went to its neutral-site Championship Game format in 2015, the final will feature the host team, and while the Thorns’ opponent for Saturday’s kickoff at Providence Park has yet to be determined, the stands are almost guaranteed to feature a sellout crowd.

“It’s there as motivation,” head coach Mark Parsons said about hosting a championship match, after Saturday’s victory over Seattle Reign FC. “It always has been, and I don’t have to wake up and check anything to know that we have a chance at the championship, here. We know. It just drives you each day to continue to work hard.”

NWSL Shield winners North Carolina Courage will face the Chicago Red Stars on Tuesday night at Providence Park (6pm PT, ESPNEWS) in a game that was relocated from Cary, North Carolina, because of the threat of Hurricane Florence. Until that result it settled, the two-time NWSL champions won’t know which obstacle sits between them and a league-record third title.

But as Portland left their home field on Saturday in the wake of their 2-1 semifinal victory of rival Seattle Reign FC, there was already a sense of achievement among the group, if a small one. in 2015, the team failed to make the playoffs, missing a chance to deliver a final to fans at Providence Park. Now, the regret of that missed opportunity has vanished.

"The expectation for this club is to always play in the final, no matter where it is," winger Tobin Heath said. "Obviously, [the championship game] being here is extra motivation, but it’s not an easy place to get to. We’re really looking forward to this and a great week of training and a great championship game."

As of late Monday, almost all regular tickets for Saturday’s final had been sold, allowing the obstructed-view seats that normally remain empty to go on sale. Other tickets will be available for supporters of whichever team’s victorious on Tuesday, but regardless of their sale, a record will be set on Saturday night. Whereas the 2015 game in Portland between FC Kansas City and Seattle currently holds the record for largest final crowd, 2018 is guaranteed to smash that mark.

Western New York Flash (0) vs. Portland Thorns FC (2)
Rochester, N.Y.
Seattle Reign FC (1) vs. FC Kansas City (2)
Tukwila, Wash.
Seattle Reign FC (0) vs. FC Kansas City (1)
Portland, Ore.
Washington Spirit (2 [2]) vs. Western New York Flask (2 [3])
Houston,  Tex.
North Carolina Courage (0) vs. Portland Thorns FC (1)
Orlando, Fla.

“It’s the fans that really bring it out the most in us,” Thorns midfielder Lindsey Horan said, in the wake of the team’s victory against Seattle in the semifinals. “When I look out into the stadium, it’s like, my goodness, we are so lucky. We should be so grateful.”

The game is part of a week’s festivities that will feature a media day at Nike world headquarters on Thursday, publicly open practices on Friday, and Saturday’s culminating event. The Rose City Riveters, too, will be hosting an event later in the week, while a Portland Timbers MLS match against Columbus Crew SC at Providence Park on Wednesday (7:30pm PT, FOX 12 PLUS) and a University of Portland Pilots mens soccer NCAA match against Oregon State at Merlo Field on Friday (7pm) are bound to prove even hotter tickets than usual.

It’s all part of a week that was three years in the making, one that gives Thorns FC the first payoff for a successful season. How successful that season ultimately proves will be determined on Saturday, with a record set of eyes set to witness Portland’s shot at a third title.

“I’m on a high,” goalkeeper Adrianna Franch said on Saturday, when asked about clinching a title game at home. “It’s never happened here in Portland, and it’s exciting to be a part of the team that does that.