PORTLAND, Ore. — The commissioner of the National Women's Soccer League is appealing to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to make an exception to the current coronavirus restrictions and allow a limited number of fans into the Challenge Cup final next Saturday between the Portland Thorns and Gotham FC.
The Thorns clinched a spot in the preseason tournament's final game and the right to host the event at Providence Park, but the governor on Friday moved 15 counties to “extreme risk” status. That included Multnomah County, which includes the Portland metro area.
As part of the “extreme risk” designation, large numbers of fans are no longer allowed to attend outdoor sporting events, even outdoors. The Thorns and Major League Soccer’s Timbers had been allowed a limited number of supporters, capped at 15% capacity, at matches this spring.
In a letter obtained Sunday by The Associated Press, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird asked Brown to grant an exception for the title game, set for next Saturday.
“The league and our national broadcast partner CBS are thrilled to have Portland host the championship game and provide a unique showcase for what will likely be one of the largest television audiences in history to watch a women’s club competition,” Baird wrote. "The current COVID-related restrictions, however, would mean that no fans could attend this historic match. I’m writing today requesting an exemption be considered, allowing the Thorns to host fans with just 15% capacity.
“The NWSL and our clubs have been health and safety leaders in the world of sport during the current pandemic. Our medical protocols are sound, and all appropriate precautions are taken every time our players take the pitch for training and competition. We’re confident the Thorns can safely accommodate fans and are hopeful you’ll consider our request.”
The league announced on Twitter that Portland would host the Challenge Cup title match.
“Reduced capacity attendance in outdoor stadiums with protocol is safe, which is why every state is allowing it. If the game were held today, we could play it with limited attendance neighbouring Washington County with the same numbers of fans, but not in Multnomah County,” said Merritt Paulson, owner of both the Thorns and the Timbers. “We hope the state will look at our situation logically and allow the match to be hosted safely at home, where our players earned the right to play it.”
Gov. Brown's office did not immediately reply to a request for comment from the AP on Sunday.
Under the “extreme risk” the level of fans allowed into Providence Park drops from 15%, or about 3,800, to just 100 total supporters. However, the counties impacted could return to a lower level this coming Friday if cases dip or if hospitalizations in the state fall under 300.
The designation could also impact the rivalry match next Sunday between the Timbers and the Seattle Sounders.
With a spot in the title game already secured, the Thorns were set to play the Dash in Houston on Sunday night.
Gotham FC, formerly Sky Blue, secured its spot in the tournament championship with a scoreless draw against Racing Louisville earlier Sunday.
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Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press