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Timbers on Saturday, Thorns on Sunday, face Kansas City teams at Providence Park with 80% capacty allowed.

PMG FILE PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Sebastian Blanco, pictured in a 202 preseason match, could return to action for the first time since September on Saturday when the Timbers play host to Sporting Kansas City.The Timbers and Thorns return to action this week, and will have the backing of their largest crowds yet in 2021.

The Timbers play host to Sporting Kansas City at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (KPDX TV) and the Thorns welcome Kansas City at 1 p.m. Sunday (CBS/KOIN). Both teams will welcome fans at up to 80% of Providence Park's capacity — with fans 17 and older needing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend.

When last we saw the Timbers, Portland lost 3-0 on May 30 at Philadelphia. Given its challenges, including playing without two Designated Players, sitting 3-4-0 with nine points the Timbers are in a decent spot entering the summer stretch.

To become the contender many expect, Portland is going to have to improve defensively — especially on free kicks and corner kicks after giving up three goals on set pieces against Philly.

Portland expects a few of the 10 players on the injury list for the match at Philadelphia back this week. It will be exciting if Sebastian Blanco is one of them. Coach Giovanni Savarese said Thirsday that if Friday's training session goes well, Blanco will be available for the first time since tearing his ACL on Sept. 6, 2020.

Jaroslaw Niezgoda, the other Designated Player on the shelf since last season with an ACL tear, has begun doing some training with the full squad iand could be available soon, according to Savarese.

The Timbers aren't yet at full strength, but appear to have more healthy players than at any time in the last couple of months.

"We are not at full strength, but we feel stronger," Savarese said.

Portland attackers Felipe Mora (Chile) and Yimmi Chara (Colombia) were called into their national teams for South America's championship, Copa America. The group phase ends July 27. Games are on FOX network channels.

"Good for them, because there's nothing that makes you feel more proud than reresenting your country," Savarese said.

One of the players returning this week is goalkeeper Steve Clark, who said the more fans at Providence Park, the better for the Timbers.

"That emotion in the stadium really affects me and spurs me on, so it was a challenge when you don't have fans," Clark said. "It took a lot of fun out of the game. I think it became more like work last year."

Major League Soccer last week announced that this season's all-star game will be played Aug. 25 in Los Angeles and feature stars from MLS taking on stars from Mexico's Liga MX.

• The Thorns (3-2-0, second place) return to the national spotlight after a half-dozen players spent time on national team duty.

For the U.S. Women's National Team, midfielder Lindsey Horan scored a penalty-kick goal and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch earned a shutout in her fifth appearance for the U.S. Women's National Team in a 4-0 win over Jamaica on Sunday, June 13. Thorns Crystal Dunn and Sophia Smith also appeared in that match.

The United States was scheduled to conclude its Summer Series on Wednesday, June 16 at Austin, Texas against Nigeria. Christine Sinclair (Canada) and Rocky Rodriguez (Costa Rica) also were on national team during this window.

Twinbill in Seattle — On Aug. 29at Lumen Field in Seattle, the Thorns will play OL Reign at 4 p.m. and the Timbers will battle the Sounders at 7:30 p.m. One ticket will get fans into both games. This is a great opportunity for fans, and for the NWSL's Reign, who currently play at a Triple-A baseball stadium in Tacoma.

The NWSL will add two teams in 2022, with San Diego announced as the club joining Angel City FC to form a southern California rivalry.


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