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Searching for another crown

3 things to watch as the Thorns take on the KC Current in the NWSL Championship final

The Portland Thorns take the field one final time in 2022 this weekend with their ultimate goal still ahead of them: a third star.

There’s some symmetry in Portland’s opponent in the 2022 NWSL Championship game, the Kansas City Current. The Thorns kicked off their regular season with a 3-0 win against Kansas City and will end its season against the same team this Saturday at Audi Field (5 p.m. PT, CBS).

Here are three things to watch as Portland attempts to win the league for a third time in nine postseasons:

Built for the playoffs

In Portland, making the playoffs can feel like the bare minimum expectation. The Thorns are in the playoffs for a sixth-consecutive season, an impressive feat, and fell a point short of the Shield this season. While last weekend’s 2-1 victory against the San Diego Wave was Portland’s first playoff win since 2018, it brought their all-time playoff wins to six, putting them above North Carolina Courage (5) for most playoff victories in league history.

What’s behind the consistent success? The roster is built for the season’s biggest moments with the depth to compete all year long and weather the storm of international competition that comes each summer.

Look no further than the Thorns’ win against the Wave. Rocky Rodríguez, who started the game and scored the match-tying goal on a screaming volley, was subbed off in favor of Crystal Dunn (!!) in the 62nd minute.

“It's a very challenging thing to try and balance, but what a wonderful situation to be in that I can bring in a Crystal Dunn, a Christine Sinclair, a Janine Beckie from the bench and they're the ones that win the game,” said coach Rhian Wilkinson.

Of course, as fate had it, Dunn scored the winner deep into stoppage time. Her fifth playoff goal––and first for the Thorns in her first-ever playoff game in red and black––sent the Providence Park crowd into raptures and Portland to its fourth NWSL Championship game.

Sinclair can make NWSL history (again)

Christine Sinclair only needs to play a solitary minute against the Current to etch her name in NWSL history yet again.

Sinclair played in her 11th NWSL playoff game last weekend, a new NWSL record, and can add a 12th game to her tally on Saturday. The Canadian captain can also surpass Abby Erceg for most all-time playoff minutes (975) if she logs at least 26 minutes this weekend.

Universally loved, even on the precipice of several records, Sinclair continues to set the example of what it means to be a great teammate.

“I wanted her to be on the field at that last moment,” said Wilkinson last weekend. “This is the best player that's ever played in the NWSL. You see Cristiano Ronaldo’s antics for [Manchester United] and I put her on for one minute to just give us some time and she does that willingly for her team, even though obviously she wants to lead her team out.”

Are the Thorns certified water benders?

The statistics certainly bear this out with Portland a combined 3-1-2 against the Wave and Current this season. More seriously, what should Thorns fans expect from Kansas City in the third matchup of the season?

Portland hasn’t lost to Kansas City since it returned to the Midwest following a few seasons as the Utah Royals. The Thorns have won three of the matchups and drawn twice with a plus-five goal differential.

Wilkinson’s team went 1-0-1 against the Current this season, with a 3-0 victory to open the season in April and a 1-1 draw at Children’s Mercy Park on September 18.

Kansas City finished the regular season in fifth place, but its 36 points were even San Diego and the Houston Dash. The Current won two of their final five regular-season games, but are red hot this postseason with a 2-1 road win in Houston and 2-0 win against the OL Reign in Seattle.

On the field, fans will recognize a familiar face in Kansas City goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, who has her fair share of playoff and championship experience. She started between the sticks for the Thorns both in the 2017 and 2018 Championship finals. This Saturday will be her second time facing Portland in the NWSL’s marquee game (2013 final with the Western New York Flash).

With an attack led by the duo of Cece Kizer and Lo’eau LaBonta (7 goals) as well as Kristen Hamilton (6), and defense headlined by AD, the Current present an intriguing challenge in the Nation’s Capital this weekend.