The National Women's Soccer League is back in action on Sunday with the start of play for the West pod teams in the Fall Series as Portland Thorns FC host Utah Royals FC on Twitch. The Thorns and Royals are meeting for the first time in 2020 as group play and knockout rounds in the Challenge Cup never featured the two teams in a match. Let's take a look at everything you need to know about this first meeting between the two teams.
Date: Sunday, Sept. 20 | Time: 3 p.m. ET
Location: Providence Park -- Portland, Oregon
TV: None | Live stream: Twitch
Portland Thorns FC: The Thorns are finally kicking off their Fall Series after having their opener against OL Reign rescheduled due to air quality conditions in light of the recent wildfires impacting the Pacific Northwest. Their Challenge Cup tournament ended in a semifinal loss to Houston Dash, and they will now host Utah, a team they last played over a year ago on Sept. 6, 2019 where they lost 1-0.
This 2020 matchup will see a different Thorns side, featuring former Royals defender Becky Sauerbrunn now on the back line for Portland. The team will also be without goalkeepers Adriana Franch and Bella Bixby due to knee injuries, but still have a more than capable goalkeeper in Britt Eckerstrom available. We'll be watching Sophia Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, who was unavailable to play during Challenge Cup due to injury. A number of veterans are available for this match, including Costa Rican international Rocky Rodriguez, Canadian international Christine Sinclair, and USWNT midfielder Lindsay Horan.
Utah Royals FC: Utah Royals are making their Fall Series debut after a Challenge Cup quarterfinals elimination against Houston Dash on penalty kicks. Coach Craig Harrington had his squad rolled out in a new three back formation during Challenge Cup, and the Fall Series could be an opportunity for the team to continue their strategic adaptation. The club will be without a number of players for these matches with some players out on loan overseas and several opt outs, including USWNT outside back Kelley O'Hara. The club made a trade with Chicago for forward Michele Vasconcelos ahead of Fall Series, who played under Harrington as an assistant coach. The trade should help boost the offense that will feature veteran forward Amy Rodriguez and rookie Tziarra King.
Two teams who utilized Challenge Cup as an opportunity to try some different things, but Thorns will take this one. Pick: Thorns 2, Royals 1