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NWSL Challenge Cup: Rivals meet Wednesday at Providence Park as Portland tries to secure its spot in Cup final.

The opportunity is significant. The Portland Thorns understand that.

Beat OL Reign on Wednesday, April 21, at Providence Park and the Thorns might clinch their participation in the NWSL Challenge Cup final. If Kansas City wins at Chicago Wednesday, KC will remain alive in the West Division regardless of the Thorns' outcome.

A win over the Reign also would keep Portland on track to play that May 8 Cup final match at home.

But, those spoils are back-burner for the team, according to coach Mark Parsons.

"I think we all feel really good about what the points look like, but I think we all know we need to be better and we can be better," Parsons said.

The standings show Portland at 2-0-0 thanks to a 2-1 win at home over Kansas City and a 1-0 win at Chicago, the six points four clear of second-place Houston. A win over the Tacoma-based Reign, which opened with a scoreless draw against Houston, would push Portland to nine points with a match at Houston still to play.

Wednesday's rivalry match is set for 7:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network television).

Parsons' team will have its five international players back — including Christine Sinclair, who did not play in Canada's most recent match but is healthy and will play Wednesday.

Parsons said the four members of the United States team that last week in Europe played friendly matches against Sweden and France are "in a great spot" entering this rivalry match.

Having Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Sophia Smith available likely means significant lineup rotation form the shorthanded side that survived to win 1-0 at Chicago.

Parsons said it has been a fun week getting his full roster back, though midfielder Rocky Rodriguez will again be on limited minutes because of a minor injury.

Goalkeeper Adrianna Franch is among those enjoying a happy return after a difficult 2020 recovering from a knee injury. She said having a nine-week preseason helped her get her feet back under her, and to learn tendencies of new teammates such as Sauerbrunn and Natalia Kuikka.

"When everybody has their own little flavor, but also sticks to our principles, we can be something special," Franch said.

Franch said the team is motivated not only to qualify for the Challenge Cho final, but to earn the opportunity to play that match at Providence Park. She said that, even with attendance limited to 15% of the 25,258 capacity, the support from fans in Portland is unmatched.

Having even limited fans, Franch said, provides fans and players the opportunity "to get away from the outside world and be on the same page, and feel a sense of family and community. We feel it on the pitch, with 5,000, 25,000, a hundred, one person."

Parsons emphasized that he is "bloody excited" about the opportunity in front of his team, but that he only thinks about the standings when away from work.

"If we're not focused on the details, if we're not focused on the process, then we're in trouble. So we have to stay focused. It's all about improving," Parsons said.

"The big picture is, we've got a lot of goals to chase and we haven't got a chance if we're not growing and improving. That has to remain the focus."


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