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Portland hosts KC on Sunday afternoon; Thorns may be closer to signing 15-year-old Olivia Moultrie

PMG PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Meghan Klingenberg and the Thorns return to NWSL play. She is looking forward to a big crown, not so much the predicted hot weather.The run-up to Sunday's 1 p.m. match between the Portland Thorns and KC NWSL (KOIN 6/CBS) included talk about the weather, keeping fluidity on the field when players are away for international competition, the process for developing younger players and — naturally — anticipation of playing in Providence Park with a sizable crowd on hand for the first time since 2019.

But, the most intriguing story for the Thorns this week was a legal win for 15-year-old Olivia Moultrie.

The California native moved to Portland in 2019 to train with the Thorns after reaching an endorsement deal with Nike.This week, U.S. District Judge Karin J. Immergut extended a court order banning the National Women's Soccer League from enforcing its rule that requires players to be at least 18 years old, presenting an opportunity for Moultrie to sign with the Thorns.

There is no indication of how soon that might happen.

In a media availability on Friday, June 18, Thorns coach Mark Parsons said the hope had been that Moultrie would be available for Sunday's match, but that isn't expected. Parsons said that "we've got to let the process continue."

There are many reasons that Moultrie's contract could be delayed, including if the NWSL appeals the judge's ruling.

Parsons said he hasn't closely followed the ups and downs of the legal process behind Moultrie's push to play in the NWSL, stating that his role is to give her a sense of normalcy and to work every day to make her a better player.

"She's been training superbly throughout this very weird and interesting period. She's maintained focus. She's maintained great energy and passion and positivity," Parsons said.

The crux of Moultrie's legal argument is that male soccer players are allowed to sign pro contracts at any age, so the NWSL age restriction discriminates against young women having equal opportunity. Adding to the complexity of the situation, the NWSL and the NWSL Players Association are negotiating a collective bargaining agreement that, in theory, can codify age rules.

Moultrie has trained with the Thorns and played in preseason matches and scrimmages with the club.

According to reporting from The Athletic, the Thorns now control Moultrie's NWSL rights after sending a future draft pick to OL Reign, which put a discovery claim on Moultrie,

If Moultrie is ready to play in a first-team match against adult women, figure the Thorns want to have her available soon given that their Olympics-bound players will be gone after Portland visits North Carolina for a June 26 match.

"We just wait until the green light," Parsons said. "Hopefully, we're close. Because she deserves the opportunity for sure."

With temperatures forecast to push into the 90s, Providence Park's artificial surface figures to be uncomfortable Sunday.

Meghan Klingenberg quipped that the Thorns who were with the U.S. Women's National team in Texas during the international break are "climate tested" for Sunday's heat.

"Half our team will be ready," she said. "The other half will be taking IVs at halftime."

Both Klingenberg and Parsons are excited to play in front of a real Thorns crowd for the first time since late in 2019. Capacity will be allowed at 80%, with fans required to show proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

"I'm really excited, one, because that means it'll be loud and fun and it'll feel like normal," Klingenberg said. "But, I'm also really excited because that means a lot of people in Oregon have gotten vaccinated, and that's really important."

Parson has said that, to him, the fans are an integral part of any club, and especially important to the Thorns. He noted that soccer players, coaches and management come and go over the years while fans remain loyal to their club.

"I think the sport is all about the fans and all about the connection, all about the experience," he said. "It's why I fell in love (with soccer)."

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