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Kicking around soccer news and notes ... Sinc in form, WICC soccer dates announced and Timbers return to action

PMG PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Portland Thorns midfielder Hina Sugita is watched by Lauren Barnes of Seattle's OL Reign FC on May 13 at Providence Park. The NWSL rivals battled to a scoreless draw.

Coming off a 4-0 win at Houston, the Portland

Thorns carry momentum into a Sunday, June 19

visit from the Orlando Pride. It's their Thorns

last match before an international break. And a rare home appearance until the calendar turns to August. A July 16 visit from NJ/NY Gotham FC is the only home match in July.

The front-loaded home schedule might not have been the best option in this season of transition to coach

Rhian Wilkinson. On the one hand, limited travel early in the schedule meant a little more preparation time. But, by struggling for wins in that early stretch of six home matches, it means there will be pressure to be productive on the road.

They certainly answered that challenge with their 4-0 win in the Houston heat on Sunday, June 12. Not only did Portland handle challenging weather, after watching a 2-0 lead at San Diego disappear four days earlier in a disappointing 2-2 draw, the Thorns managed an early lead in Houston keeping a grip on the match with an encouraging confidence and decisiveness.

San Diego isn't exactly a weak first-year side. The way that 2-2 draw unfolded was disappointing, but for Wilkinson, a tie on the road against the team setting the early pace in the NWSL was a positive step.

San Diego enters this week atop the standings and fellow first-year club Angel City FC is tied for third with Portland.

That's good for the National Women's Soccer League,

even as the NWSL continues to struggle through investigations into conduct of coaches and management.

The new teams have raised the competitive level, while adding more jobs for talented

players.

"It's a testament to the quality of player that we have, that we're bringing to the States, that we are growing in the States, that that we're developing here. The expansion team kind of struggling is not a thing," Thorns defender and U.S. Women's National Team captain Becky Sauerbrunn said following the draw at San Diego.

Naturally, Sauerbrunn and the Thorns would love to see new opponents struggle to find their footing — at least when facing Portland. Adding to the sting at San

Diego, Christen Westphal and rookie Amirah Ali delivered the assists on the two late Wave goals. Both players went to San Diego from Portland as part of the expansion process. Ali was a Thorns' draft pick in 2021, but never played for Portland as she completed her college career at Rutgers.

But, big picture, more competitive teams are good news for women's soccer.

"It is a testament to how much this league has developed and how when you bring a new team in and infrastructures in, you're getting the right people in the right decision-making places,"

Sauerbrunn said. "And you bring the right players in and it's a testament to how good the players are, as

well."

Sinclair climbs list — Christine Sinclair scored her 58th NWSL regular-season goal at San Diego, moving alone into second on the league's all-time goals list. It was a beauty of a goal, with Sam Coffey delivering a well-placed ball over the heads of San Diego defenders for her first NWSL assist. That goal came in Sinclair 150th NWSL match, only the fourth player to reach that number in the decade-old league.

Sauerbrunn said she'd love to see Sinclair chase down Sam Kerr's league record 76 career goals. Sinclair's response: "That's very kind of Becky to say. Maybe I'll stick around if she does. So, we'll see how that works."

WICC dates announced — The women's soccer league champions from France, England and Mexico will join the Portland Thorns Aug. 17 and Aug. 20 at Providence Park for the 2022 Women's International Challenge Cup.

The Thorns are the defending champions of the event, staged by Relevent Sports Group and billed as the competition to decide the women's soccer club world champion.

In the semifinals on Aug. 17, Olympique Lyonnais will face Chelsea FC while Portland faces C.F. Monterrey of Mexico. Olympique Lyonnais won the French championship and the UEFA Women's Champions League title. Lyon includes Thorns midfielder Lindsey Horan, who is on loan to the French club through 2023. Chelsea, the champions of England, feature Australian Sam Kerr, the NWSL's leader in career goals before moving to Chelsea.

Tickets go on sale on June 21.

Timbers return to action — Will the Portland Timbers rediscover winning form when they visit the LA Galaxy at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 18 (ESPN)? It doesn't hurt that injured players Felipe Mora, Eryk Williamson, Claudio Bravo and Jaroslaw Niezgoda all returned to training during this international break. Whether this week, or during run of upcoming home dates, the Timbers should be able to field the kind of lineup capable of turning around this moribund season.

T2, meanwhile, will shoot for its first win in MLS NEXT Pro league play when Houston Dynamo 2 visits Hillsboro Stadium at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 19.


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