The Portland Thorns before their 4–1 victory over OL Reign September 30. They face the Reign again October 10.

Image: Alli Weseman

Thorns 2020, we hardly knew ye.

Portland’s National Women’s Soccer League team plays their last game of the year at 5 p.m. Saturday, October 10, away against the Tacoma-based OL Reign. While a normal season would have been 24 games, some preseason bouts, and the postseason (which the Thorns have made every year of their existence except one), the pandemic trimmed 2020 play to just 10 matches, played in two quick chunks with nearly two months in between.

Sophia Smith (from left), Lindsey Horan, Madison Pogarch, Simone Charley, Emily Menges, and Kelli Hubly smother Rocky Rodríguez in hugs after her first goal as a Thorn, September 20 against the OL Reign.

Image: Alli Weseman

“This whole year has felt like a stop-start preseason,” head coach Mark Parsons said in a Zoom press conference on Thursday. The team’s first six games came in the NWSL Challenge Cup, the bubble tournament that saw the Thorns place last after first-round play before knocking out the favorites in the quarterfinals and then losing to eventual champs the Houston Dash in the semis. The rest have been in the western pod of the NWSL Fall Series, with an opening 3–0 win at home and then a tie away against the Utah Royals. (The away game in Utah was the Thorns’ only 2020 game with fans, albeit at a mere fraction of the usual crowd.) The first meeting with the Reign was 4–1 victory September 30 that featured the first goal as a Thorn from midfielder Rocky Rodríguez and a hat trick from team captain Christine Sinclair.*

Depending on the outcome of Friday’s Orlando-Houston game, a win could secure the best record in the Fall Series and the Community Shield. Even if a surging Houston claims the shield (if the Dash win and the Thorns do not), a tie would keep the Thorns in the second spot, and even a loss could still land them second or third in the nine-team NWSL.

It’s not just glory the team is playing for. Fall Series sponsor Verizon is giving grants of $25,000, $15,000, and $10,000 to the chosen community partners of the top three teams. The Thorns’ recipient would be Mimi’s Fresh Tees, a two-year-old company founded by Portlander Kamelah Adams that’s known for its shirts and other items emblazoned with messages like “Make racism wrong again.” The team ordered a set of Mimi’s raised-fist “Unity” design last month.

 
 
 
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I can’t really explain how excited I was when I learned that the @thornsfc players would be wearing my Unity tees 🤗! A HUGE thank you to the team and org for choosing to support Mimi’s Fresh Tees. GO THORNS and congrats on the win last night! Check out a few of the players #wearingtheirtruth @raque_rocky @asalem6 @sophsssmith @lindseyhoran10 @simonecharley @gabby_seiler @emilyogle9 . . . #thornsfc #womenssoccer #unity #weareinthistogether #wearyourtruth #mimisfreshtees #pdxloveoverhate #pdxlove #pdx #portlandoregon #portland #oregon #westcoast #womenssports #speakyourtruth #useyourvoice #allwedoiswin #winwin #admire #love #socialjusticeart #breonnataylor #unityisstrength #soccergirls #futbol #heroes #athletes #girlsweruntheworld

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“The opportunity to be able to give back to a local business and really continue the important conversation that needs to happen, to continue to happen, across the country, not just in Portland and Oregon—that gives it special meaning,” Parsons says. “The players have worked hard on their purpose as a team throughout this period, and they’ve worked hard on their individual purpose throughout this period.”

Without a win, final league standings won’t be known till the other two pods play their last games October 17. Adams, of course, is rooting for the Rose City. She says a grant would help her expand, in terms of both product lines and people. “My PR person is my friend, and she’s been volunteering a lot of her time,” she says. “As women, we need to get paid!”

Adams has never been to a Thorns game, but she’s caught some of the fall series (games have aired on CBS, CBS Sports Network, the CBS All Access app, and Twitch, which will show Saturday’s game) and is excited to watch again with her family this weekend.

“My kids were like, ‘Does this mean we can go the games?’” Adams says of when she learned last month the Thorns had asked to partner with Mimi’s Fresh Tees. “I said no way—we’re still in COVID!”

*Middle-aged writer’s note: Just pointing out that for all the hell of 2020, it brought us this hat trick from Sinclair, 37; a zillion new WNBA records for the Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird, who turns 40 next week; and a Super Bowl in which the best athletic performances were delivered at halftime from Jennifer Lopez, then 50, and Shakira, who celebrated her 43rd birthday that day.