Lindsey Horan, Thorns vs. Courage, 10.14.17

Thorns FC released their 2018 schedule today, and it's jam-packed with big match-ups across the summer. Here are the top three (and one bonus) can't miss matches of the year:

Portland Thorns vs. North Carolina Courage
Wednesday, May 30, 7:30 p.m., Providence Park

Portland is going to begin its NWSL Championship title defense in North Carolina on March 24 … which is fine, I guess. Given Providence Park is under construction for the first two weekends of the season, that Lifetime game is probably the best Week 1 matchup we could have hoped for.

But don’t be tricked into thinking March 24 will be a true, representative title rematch. Both the Thorns and Courage have international-heavy rosters. Most of their key players will be missing for chunks of the preseason. Each side will put its best foot forward in Cary, but come later in the season, last year’s top teams will be in much deeper form.

That’s why Carolina’s May 30 trip to Providence Park is the true must-see. These are the two most talented teams in the NWSL, and once they have 10 matches under their belts, this late-May clash will give us a clear read on who should be considered 2018’s favorite.

The subplots, too, are irresistible: New Courage forward Crystal Dunn facing the coach that helped her win the 2015 MVP award, Mark Parsons; Paul Riley returns to Portland, again; Lindsey Horan goes head-to-head against one of her national team midfield partners, Samantha Mewis; and one of the most complete forwards in the league, Lynn Williams, takes on one of the NWSL’s most versatile defenders, Emily Sonnett.

Add in the ambiance of a late-spring night in Portland, and this match should have a very unique feel.

Portland Thorns vs. Chicago Red Stars
Saturday, August 18, 12:30 p.m., Providence Park

Portland and North Carolina may be the NWSL’s two favorites, but Chicago shouldn’t be considered far behind, especially considering who last year’s fourth-place team landed this offseason.

Bringing in Sam Kerr at the expense of Christen Press was the headline trade of the offseason, but if the Australian international continues her ascent, the move could spell trouble for the Thorns and Courage. Still only 24 years old, Kerr has scored 30 goals in her last 31 club games (between the NWSL and W-League), and having earned a place in any best-player-in-the-world conversation, Kerr is rightly seen as the NWSL’s marquee talent.

She also has a history of putting on a show at Providence Park. In her last visit to Portland, Kerr set up Sky Blue’s opening goal before adding a brace of her own, with her trademark backflip after a second-half counter condemning the Thorns to a shock 3-1, home loss.

Amid a season that included two hat tricks and a record-setting four-goal game (she added two more hat tricks during the W-League season), Kerr’s performance in the Rose City still stood out. The list of players capable of single-handedly torching the Thorns may only number one.

If you’re a women’s soccer fan, Sam Kerr is a must-see. If you have any interest in sports at all, you have to go. In a league full of U.S. national team stars, Kerr is becoming the NWSL’s transcendent talent.

Utah Royals vs. Portland Thorns
Saturday, April 28, 6 p.m., Rio Tinto Stadium

The first-year Royals are going to compete for a playoff spot. Between the arrival of former Seattle boss Laura Harvey, the presence the iconic Becky Sauerbrunn and the return of U.S. standout Amy Rodriguez, Utah is no normal expansion team. It would be no surprise if Utah’s season goes beyond the 24 games on its schedule.

The biggest news around the Royals, though, is what they’re doing off the field. The team’s stadium has undergone construction to build the Royals dedicated locker rooms and training facilities, putting the club’s facilities on par with any in the NWSL.

In terms of attendance, Utah had over 2,000 season ticket commitments within a month of the club becoming official. Before season’s end, they’ll likely have the second-biggest season-ticket base in the NWSL (it they haven’t gotten there already).

Asking Utah to be title-contender this season is a little too much, but in terms of quality off the field, the Royals are intent on matching Portland from day one. And with the Thorns first visit to Salt Lake on April 28, Royals fans will get their first chance to show the NWSL’s marque organization what’s in store.

With a number of Thorns fans likely to brave the 12-hour drive, a few Riveters will get a first-hand look at what, from Utah’s first kick, could be the league’s second-best crowd.

BONUS: Seattle Reign vs. Portland Thorns
Saturday, June 30, 7 p.m., Memorial Stadium

When the NWSL’s home openers were announced last week, an MLS/NWSL doubleheader was revealed for Chicago on the March 31, with Timbers battling the Fire at 3pm PT before the Thorns take on the Red Stars at 5:15pm PT. For fans wanting to enjoy an ultimate Portland away day, though, June 30 may prove slightly more enticing, if not a shorter, trip.

That’s when both the Thorns and Timbers will be playing on the same day in Seattle. The Timbers will kick off the trip at 1pm with a Cascadia Cup derby against the Sounders at CenturyLink Field. With enough time to hit your favorite Seattle pub in between, the Thorns will face the rival Reign come 7pm at UW Medicine Pitch at Memorial Stadium.

Two years ago, Reign crowds at Memorial became large enough to open both sides of the team’s Seattle Center venue. If things work out as planned, June 30 may be the first time that both the north and south stands could reach capacity at the team’s 12,000-seat ground.

Starting as low as $515

Starting as low as $515

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