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Portland to play four times in NWSL fall series, beginning Sept. 12 vs. OL Reign; Tobin Heath joins Manchester United.

COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND THORNS FC - Coach Mark Parsons is glad his squad will get to play four matches in September and October.The Portland Thorns return to Providence Park on Saturday, Sept. 12, to battle rival OL Reign in the first of four fall games.

There will be no fans in the stands, but for the NWSL and its teams, these games matter.

"While we wish our fans were there, the chance to get to play in our home stadium, in our home city, is special," Thorns coach Mark Parsons said. "Hopefully, seeing us play in our home stadium can bring a little bit of joy to our fans. It's been a tough year for our fans, for our city. We are very motivated to give them something to smile about."

The Thorns and Reign will play at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15. It will be streamed live on Twitch. Originally scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 12 with a national television broadcast on CBS (KOIN 6), poor air quality forced the game to be postponed.

The Thorns also play at Providence Park at noon Sept. 20 against Utah Royals FC, a match that will be exclusively streamed on Twitch.

Portland's road games are at 7 p.m. Oct. 3 at Utah and at 5 p.m. Oct. 10 at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma against OL Reign. The Oct. 3 match against Royals FC will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. The Oct. 10 match against OL Reign will be streamed on Twitch.

The team that finishes with the most points from its NWSL Fall Series matches will win the Verizon Community Shield and $25,000 for a local small business or program. The second-place team will win $15,000 for a small business partner and the third-place team $10,000.

"This is an invaluable time for us," Parsons said.

As was the case with the NWSL Challenge Cup, Tobin Heath will not be part of the Thorns for the Fall Series, most of the roster is available, according to Parsons.

Heath and Utah Royals forward Christen Press have signed with Manchester United of the FA Women's Super League for the 2020-21 season, a 22-game season that began last weekend and runs through May 9, 2021.

The deal was announced Sept. 9. The Thorns retain Heath's NWSL rights. It is likely Heath won't play for the Thorns again at least until after the 2021 Olympic Games.

Heath and Press are following U.S. Women's National Team teammates San Mewis (North Carolina) and Rose Lavelle (OL Reign) who have joined Manchester City for this WSL season in England. The WSL season began Sept. 5. NBC Sports owns the United States broadcast rights and is streaming WSL matches on its website.

Big picture, the four fall games give the Thorns the opportunity to get valuable competitive experience for a club in transition.

More minutes will be great benefit to players such as rookie forward Morgan Weaver and other young players looking to establish themselves. Midfielders Gabby Seiler and Emily Ogle, defenders Madison Pogarch, and rookies Autumn Smithers and Meaghan Nally can benefit from the competition. It will give players such as defenders Kelli Hubly and Christen Westphal a chance to build on encouraging play at the NWSL Challenge Cup.

At some point this fall, forward Sophia Smith should make her Thorns debut. The No. 1 pick in the 2020 NWSL draft was expected to join full training sessions in early September. Smith has been sidelined by a knee injury. Parsons said the plan is to continue to be patient with Smith's return-to-play, but that she should see at least some playing time.

Goalkeepers Adrianna Franch and Bella Bixby will not play because of injuries. Parsons is hopeful that defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who played in only one game in the Challenge Cup, will be ready for the final two games of the fall schedule.

The NWSL fall series includes 18 total matches over seven weeks. The nine teams are divided into three three-team pods and will play each other twice.

CBS will air a match each Saturday in September. CBS Sports Network will carry a game on three October Saturdays.

The four games give each NWSL team a chance for additional competition after the league completed the NWSL Challenge Cup in July. Many of the same COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place, with additional restrictions in place for games played in home markets.

• In preparation for 2021, the Thorns have an agreement with a defender to come to Portland from Europe next season. The name of the player could not be confirmed. The transaction is expected to be announced at the completion of the player's season in Europe.

NOTE — This story was updated with the official announcement that Tobin Heath has signed with Manchester United.

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Twitter: @pauldanzer

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