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On Soccer/By Paul Danzer/Portland Tribune/Thorns face rivalry match as well in battle of top NWSL teamssos

The home stretch of the soccer season gets off to an intriguing start this weekend at Providence Park.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, the Timbers play the first of 10 consecutive MLS home matches and can close in on the Cascadia Cup with a win over Vancouver. And it's a match the Timbers should win. The Whitecaps, in starting-from-scratch mode under first-year coach Marc Dos Santos, have the second-worst goals-differential (minus-17) and are tied for the second-fewest goals scored in MLS (25 in 24 games).

But the Timbers must solve an opponent that will keep most of its players behind the ball in an attempt to limit Portland's attacking options. The formula worked for less-than-dynamic Colorado and Orlando City teams in draws at Providence Park.

A win over the Whitecaps would vault the Timbers to the top of the Cascadia Cup standings and mean Portland can claim the regional trophy with a win or a draw at home against Seattle on Aug. 23.

On Sunday, the Thorns have a rivalry match of their own, with the North Carolina Courage visiting for a noon contest. The NWSL's two most accomplished clubs entered this week 1-2 in the standings, though midweek games — including the Thorns-Reign FC on Wednesday — might shuffle that before this showdown. North Carolina had seven players at the Women's World Cup, including Americans Sam Mewis, Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper and Jessica McDonald.

• Last Saturday, Portland soccer fans were longing for a video assistant referee. Last Sunday, not so much.

With video review, the Thorns likely would have beaten Sky Blue FC instead of settling for a 1-1 draw. Twice in the match Portland's Midge Purce was fouled in the box, but no foul was whistled. Hard to imagine referee Mark Allatin seeing those replays and not awarding penalty kicks.

The NWSL doesn't have VAR. That makes sense, given limitations at some venues.

MLS does have VAR and referee Chris Penso used it to over-rule himself and award the deciding PK to Minnesota United on Sunday. Even Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath called that decision "dubious."

VAR is an important tool that can help officials get difficult decisions right. Perhaps Penso had a better replay view than was shown on TV. If not, this was the wrong way to use VAR and leaves fans, coaches and players wondering how "clear and obvious error" is interpreted.

What was clear and obvious watching on ESPN was that temperatures in the 90s impacted the quality of play.

ESPN platforms are an important outlet. But with sloppy play by players trying to survive rather than entertain, games do more harm than good in attracting viewers beyond the league's most rabid fans.

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@pauldanzer


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