BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Thorns have interesting matchup Saturday when they finish NWSL regular season against Chicago Red Stars

Mark Parsons and the Portland Thorns face an interesting challenge on Saturday.

With nothing to gain or lose, the Thorns entertain Chicago to close out the National Women's Soccer League regular season.THORNS PREVIEW

The Red Stars could be the team Portland must beat a week later in the playoff semifinals. That will happen if Chicago wins this week, clinching third place and a return trip to Providence Park on Oct. 7.

If you're Parsons, in a must-win playoff match, you might not want to face a team you just lost to.

On the other hand, if the Thorns beat the Red Stars this week, it opens the door for Orlando to move into third place. Granted, the Thorns have never lost to the Pride, but facing former Thorn Alex Morgan and the league's top-scoring team might not be the ideal semifinal matchup, either.

We don't doubt the Thorns will be up for either semifinal challenge.

Portland played Orlando to a scoreless draw in Florida on Saturday — just the third time in Orlando's two years in the league the Pride have been blanked at home.

It was the 11th shutout of the season for the Thorns, a league record for goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.

The most exciting news for Thorns fans was Tobin Heath's first action. Playing 30 minutes in the second half, the creative Heath was involved in two of Portland's most dangerous attacking chances.

If Heath, sidelined since preseason with a back injury, can be fit enough to start the semifinal, it would be a nice boost to Portland's attack. Heath led the league with 10 assists last season. Even if she isn't ready to start, Heath can be a weapon off the bench.

Which brings us back to Parsons' conundrum.

Certainly he does not want to disrupt the form that has the Thorns unbeaten in their last five games (four wins and a draw) and 8-1-1 in their last 10. And he probably wants to get Heath more minutes to build her fitness.

But in many ways this is a throwaway match, a chance perhaps to give a breather to a few players — Christine Sinclair, for example.

No one will remember the result on Saturday. It's the Oct. 7 match that will be remembered either for launching the Thorns into the NWSL title game or for abruptly ending another otherwise successful season.

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