Saturday's result could mean the NWSL Shield, a smoother playoff schedule, and major player milestones and records
At this point the math is simple: with three points this weekend, the Portland Thorns FC will clinch their third NWSL Shield and add another banner to the rafters above Providence Park.
It’s fitting the venue is New York City against NY/NJ Gotham FC at Red Bull Arena. Both teams last squared off on July 16, where Portland picked up a 5-0 win against a Gotham side with 12 points to its name all season.
A win this Saturday not only guarantees the shield, but would also earn the Thorns a bye week before their first playoff game. And they wouldn't have to play away from Providence Park until the NWSL Championship in Washington D.C. if they win the semifinal game.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves. First task: taking care of business on Saturday, knowing that no matter what happens elsewhere, they still control their own destiny.
Here are three things to watch as Portland looks to close its season with a third-consecutive victory:
1. Bixby and the Thorns defense hopes to keep its third-straight clean sheet
The Thorns’ defense looks stronger and stronger with each passing game. Last weekend’s 3-0 win against the Chicago Red Stars was Portland’s third-consecutive clean sheet and ninth of the 2022 campaign. Meghan Klingenberg adds width and service in from the left, Natalia Kuikka locks down the right and Kelli Hubly as well as Becky Sauerbrunn defend the spine of Portland’s defense.
And let's not forget goalkeeper Bella Bixby, who surpassed 100 career saves in her team’s 2-0 win against the Orlando Pride on September 9. Bixby’s 17 goals allowed are the fewest among all keepers who have played at least 18 games. It's no surprise she won NWSL's Save of the Week this week for her stop against Chicago.
Finishing the season with nine clean sheets would be nice, but the Thorns are hoping that on Saturday they can make it an even 10.
2. Smith chases Portland’s single-season scoring record
Sophia Smith has an opportunity to set several club scoring records this weekend. Already just the fourth player in club history to register double-digit goals in a season, a brace against Gotham would see her set a Thorns’ single-season scoring record, surpassing Lindsey Horan’s 13-goal 2018 season.
Few Thorns have had a hotter start to their career in the Rose City than Smith. Even if she doesn’t net a brace and break Horan’s record, a single goal sees her hit 20 all-time goals as a Thorn, etching her name alongside Christine Sinclair, Allie Long, and Horan as Portland’s only players to reach that figure.
Regardless of what happens Saturday, it has been another regular season to remember for the youngster from Windsor, Colorado, who hopes to truly make a name for herself by leading the Thorns to another NWSL title.
3. Sinclair sits on the verge of 60 goals
Smith will likely make the headlines if she scores again this weekend, but Sinclair also finds herself a goal away from another incredible milestone when she takes the field on Saturday.
The next goal Portland’s Canadian captain scores will be her 60th as a Thorn, a cumulative goal total so absurd that only Sam Kerr can say she has accomplished the same feat. Unlike Kerr, however, all of Sinclair's goals have come in black and red.
Sinclair’s last regular season goal sparked an incredible Portland comeback in the final moments against the Washington Spirit, turning an 0-1 deficit in the 85th minute to a 2-1 victory. A goal on Saturday sees Sinclair join yet another exclusive club and would go a long way toward helping Portland secure another Shield.