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Thorns enter NWSL final with very different look from 2017 title squad

Crystal Dunn and coach Rhian Wilkinson both have joined the team since its last title run. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns will play in their first NWSL Championship since 2018 when they face the Kansas City Current at 8 p.m. ET Saturday at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.

The Thorns lost their 2018 trip to the final to the North Carolina Courage, and they last won the NWSL title in 2017, also against the Courage.

A two-time title-winning franchise, Portland is no stranger to success, historically or recently. The Thorns won the championship in 2013, the league’s inaugural season 2013. Last season, they won the NWSL Shield but fell in the semifinals to the Chicago Red Stars.

But this year’s roster looks very different from the one the title in 2017.

Start at the top: Former Thorns coach Mark Parsons, who joined the team in 2016, departed after the 2021 season. Former Thorns player Rhian Wilkinson took his place, and she has led the team to the brink of a championship in her first year at the helm.

Players who established success in Portland, including Emily Sonnett, Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath and Nadia Nadim, have departed for other clubs since 2017.

Christine Sinclair, one of just three players from 2017 who remains on the roster for Saturday, spoke Friday about the long stretch since the Thorns’ last championship appearances.

She sat with teammate Crystal Dunn, who was a member of the Courage in 2018.

“Unfortunately the last time we were in this game, that happened,” Sinclair said, referring to Portland’s 3-0 loss to North Carolina. She looked pointedly at Dunn, who jokingly looked away, shielding her face. “So we’re looking to make new memories tomorrow.”

Dunn has become an instrumental part of the Thorns’ success since being traded to the team in 2020.

But Sinclair will face off against former teammate AD Franch. The goalkeeper played for the Thorns from 2016-21 but will start in the opposite net for the Current in this year’s title game.

Franch won the NWSL’s Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2017 and 2018 for the Thorns, but she was traded to Kansas City in 2021. She has gone on a tear for the Current this season, finishing second in voting for the top goalkeeper award and leading the team to the title game.