NWSL Challenge Cup: Fans back for Portland-Gotham FC final

The Portland Thorns will host Gotham FC Saturday in the final of the second NWSL Challenge Cup.

Both teams were losing semifinalists in the 2020 Challenge Cup and are hungry to win a trophy.

The Thorns were given a reprieve from Oregon Governor Kate Brown when she lowered the COVID-19 risk level for 15 counties from “extreme risk” to “high risk” -- including Portland's Multnomah County -- which will allow them to welcome about 3,800 fans at Providence Park (15 percent of its 25,000-seat capacity).

That's far from the 21,144 fans who turned out at Providence Park to watch the Thorns in their last final in 2018, but they will take it.

“Having fans back in general is the best feeling in the world,” said Portland midfielder Lindsey Horan. “We had it for a few national team games. But having Thorns fans back is just a different feeling. Thorns fans I appreciate so much because of how much they know the game and what they bring us and how they make us feel on game day. They make a difference, and being able to go into a championship game with fans in the stands is incredible.”

Here's a look at the two teams:

Portland Thorns. The Thorns clinched a berth in the final, sweeping their first three games, before another team in the West Division even won a game.

No team in the NWSL can match the Thorns for star power: four 2019 Women's World Cup champions (Adrianna Franch, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsey Horan and Crystal Dunn), 2015 Women's World Cup champion Meghan Klingenberg, Canadian great Christine Sinclair and Sophia Smith, one of the league's top young forwards.

Franch, Klingenberg, Horan and Sinclair were on the Thorns in 2017 when they won their last league title. They lost to the North Carolina Courage at home in the 2018 final, fell to the Chicago Red Stars in the 2019 semifinals and dropped a 1-0 decision to the Houston Dash in the 2020 Challenge Cup semifinals after finishing last in the first stage.

Gotham FC coach Freya Coombe on Portland: “Portland is a talented and experienced team that is hungry for silverware. They have a very talented midfield and are tight defensively, so it will be tricky to break down.”

Gotham FC. After making the playoffs in the NWSL's first season in 2013, Sky Blue FC (recently renamed Gotham FC) didn't make the playoffs again until it played in the 2020 Challenge Cup semifinals.

Carli Lloyd
sat out the entire 2020 NWSL season -- Challenge Cup and Fall Series -- but played in three of Gotham FC's four group matches after her return from national team duty in April. She's played as the center forward and in a more withdrawn role since her return.

A trade sent Midge Purce from Portland to New Jersey for Costa Rican star Rocky Rodriguez, and she has blossomed since the move. Purce, who is a candidate to make the Olympic team at right back, scored twice in Gotham FC's 4-3 win over the Courage in the match that decided the East Division.

A recent trade brought former Thorn Allie Long to Gotham FC, giving it another threat in midfield.

Portland coach Mark Parsons on Portland: “I’ve got a lot of respect for Gotham. I love that they are a team that want the ball and that’s going to provide a big challenge."

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