Timbers and Thorns play back-to-back at Providence Park on Friday and Saturday—and both games are huge.
It's an exciting weekend to be a soccer fan in the Pacific Northwest.
When the Portland Thorns FC line up against the San Diego Wave FC on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. PT, FOX 12 PLUS) they have a golden opportunity to build some breathing room atop the NWSL table.
Despite the 3-1 loss to the North Carolina Courage on Wednesday evening, the Thorns remain in first place, level with the Houston Dash and San Diego Wave on 28 points, and with a game in hand on each. It's the proverbial six-pointer: Winning would give the Thorns three points and steal three points from a team hot on their tails.
“We have looked at this as a six-game month and have been trying to build out our rosters through it,” said Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson earlier this week about the packed August schedule. “It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s a great test for us as a staff.”
An explosive Cascadia clash
The Thorns aren’t the only team with a crucial home game this weekend. Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash follows Friday night’s Cascadia Derby between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders (7 p.m. PT, ESPN).
A rivalry with its fair share of thrilling moments (most recently, Portland: 3, Seattle: 0), the 2022 season’s second leg pits two teams close in the Western Conference standings, but still in the middle of the pack in MLS, far from where they aspire to be. Both teams have taken exactly seven points each since that meeting in Seattle in July. Friday will be a showdown of two bitter rivals looking to get back on track.
“This is a huge game, for me the biggest rivalry in MLS,” said Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese on Wednesday afternoon. “It never disappoints and is going to be a huge game, especially because both teams are needing a point; I think that’s going to make it even more important.”
It will be Timbers’ first game at Providence Park since their 1-1 draw against FC Dallas on Aug. 6. Following a downturn of form on the road with a 3-1 loss to Toronto FC and 4-1 loss to SKC, Portland hopes to spark another trademark late season run and find the kind of form that led them to MLS Cup a season ago.
A trophy on the line
Friday also offers Savarese a chance at a trophy that has thus far eluded him during his five-year stint in the Pacific Northwest: the Cascadia Cup. A trophy created by a triumvirate of soccer-mad fan bases and given to the team that gathers the most points during the matches between them, the Timbers’ wins against Seattle and the Vancouver Whitecaps earlier this season has them sitting at the doorstep of lifting the meaningful trophy.
“We want to win everything that we can, especially the Cascadia Cup, which for fans is bragging rights,” said Savarese. “I want us to be able to achieve that as a group to make our fans proud.”
Alex Morgan surfing the San Diego Wave
The Thorns, meanwhile, continue their NWSL shield chase against a Wave team that has hit the ground running in its inaugural season. Led by former Thorns forward Alex Morgan and rookie defender Naomi Girma, San Diego has quickly put the league on notice.
It’s a marquee matchup that speaks for itself, but after the midweek loss to the Courage (only their second this season), the game has only gained in importance.
The matchup also pits Morgan and Sophia Smith––two forwards gunning for the league’s golden boot award––against one another. Smith (11 goals) is in blazing form and scores for fun most weeks while Morgan, always a prolific scorer, has taken her game to the next level in Southern California (12 goals).
“Every game is different,” said Diego Chará after Portland’s loss in Kansas City. “Now that Seattle is fighting for a spot in the playoffs, we know that we have to take this week to prepare well for that match which is going to be important for us to find a way to get the three points. We know it is not going to be easy, but I know that we have enough talent to do it.”
Said Savarese: “These are always the matches that bring the intensity to a different level.”