CBS is ready to be a women's sports hero

Coverage of the NWSL Challenge Cup is a key
COMMENTARY By Cliff Pfenning,

The only thing keeping CBS from being a huge winner in the current socially/culturally challenging times is CBS and its coverage of the National Women's Soccer League.

And, it's possibly a huge deal in that it's the right thing to do - cover live women's sports when there's nothing but taped coverage of men's sports to cover.

Imagine the story that would be created if CBS announced it was upgrading its coverage of the NWSL Challenge Cup to include two extra live matches on its network, not its streaming service CBS All-Access.

CBS made a huge step forward for the league in March, agreeing to become the NWSL's media partner and carry two matches on its broadcast channel (free TV), something that hadn't happened for women's pro soccer - the two previous leagues and seven years of the NWSL. CBS announced it would carry the league's opening match and its final on the broadcast channel. A bundle of other matches would be carried by CBS All-Access, a streaming channel. That announcement happened March 11. Rudy Gobert happened later that day.

When the NWSL set up its Challenge Cup for June 27-July 26, CBS was right there with the same basic idea - cover the opening match and final on the broadcast newtork. The opening match, drew a pro women's soccer record audience of nearly 600,000 viewers. has been doing its share for coverage of the tourney.

But, the network is poised to make a huge impact on women's sports, women's sports media coverage, if it wants to by upgrading its commitment to the league and broadcast a couple more matches.

Imagine if CBS announced to the world that it was going to cover one or two more matches on its network, taking advantage of the fact there's basically no other live events to cover. How much free advertising would just such an announcement get for CBS? And the NWSL.




Blazers have a target to shoot for

Remainder of NBA regular season will be quick affair
By Cliff Pfenning,

The Portland Trail Blazers have numerous question marks about their roster for the next month, but their schedule is at least certain - the 2019-20 season will close out with eight games beginning July 31.

Portland sits in ninth place in the Western Conference, but is at least in contention for eighth place and the league playoffs.

All games will be played in Orlando, Fla., despite the recent uptick in positive tests for COVID-19, which halted the season March 11.

Of the league's 30 teams, 22 will participate in the remainder of the schedule. The teams with no chance of qualifying for the playoffs were left off the schedule. Five games will be played per day at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World, with no fans in attendance. Only teams and media will be allowed in the arena.

The Blazers (29-37) were 3.5 games behind Memphis (32-33) in the race for eighth place when the season stopped. New Orleans, Sacramento and San Antonio were also within four games of the Grizzlies. 

There is a potential of a play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed in each conference as well, which would be triggered by the No. 9 team finishing within four games of the No. 8 seed.

All playoff series will still be best-of-seven, but the league plans to condense the postseason as much as possible by moving up start dates for each round based on when the previous one ends.

The Finals will also be shortened down to games every other day, which means it will take less than two weeks—Game 7 would take place no later than October 12—to determine a champion after the conference finals wrap up. 

MLS return, Orlando, Moreira - Timbers questions abound

Soccer's return looks very tentative with two weeks to go
By Cliff Pfenning,

The Portland Timbers are set to return to Major League Soccer play sometime after July 8, although that schedule seems a bit tentative with a surprise announcement Monday - from the National Women's Soccer League.

Orlando, one of the nine NWSL teams set to play in the league tournament that begins Saturday, withdrew due to positive tests for COVID-19 from both players and staff. 

Orlando is the site of the MLS Tournament that includes all 26 teams. The tournament is scheduled to be played all at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on the site of the Walt Disney World Resort. Fans will not be part of the action.

Heading into Tuesday, the league had released the list of eight groupings for the event, but not a schedule for matches. Three matches - one in the morning and two in the evening, will be played throughout the tournament, which has a final scheduled for August 11.

Following the tournament, the league has announced regular-season play will continue at home sites in some form.

The Timbers' off-season roster moves hit an unexpected question as well on Monday when news of defender Jorge Moreira's return to Athletico River Plate was reportedly scuttled due to Moreira. The 30-year-old, who played last season with Portland while on loan, told online site that he wanted to return to the Timbers as opposed to the Buenos Aries club that plays in the Superliga in a stadium with 65,000 seats.

River Plate is one of the Argentine league powers with six players on the national squad and a budget that pays out roughly five times what the Timbers pay their players. Moreira's playing time was a significant question with his home club, while he was a starter in Portland.

"I will not have a place in the team, the places are complete," Moreira said to the media site TyC Sport, reported.

Portland will have to pay $1.5 million to complete the transfer. Moreira wants to continue his career in Portland but could also move to another MLS team. "Right now we are looking at all possibilities," Moreira said.

The Timbers have not commented about a potential return of Moreira.

Portland began individual workouts for the MLS Tournament in early June. 

With COVID-19 cases increasing daily in Florida and the Orlando exit from the NWSL Tournament, comment from MLS has become increasingly important.


Thorns fall in Challenge Cup opener

North Carolina's late goal turns into 2-1 victory
Staff Report

A stoppage-time goal by North Carolina boosted the two-time defending league champions to a 2-1 win over the Portland Thorns in the opening match of the NWSL Challenge Cup being played in suburban Salt Lake City, Utah.

Lucy Williams headed home a cross from Samantha Mewis in the fourth minute of stoppage time to break a 1-a tie.

Portland scored in the 80th minute when Simone Charley put home short volley after a wild scramble in front of the North Carolina goal moved to ball to her just one foot from the goal.

North Carolina scored the tournament opener in the 75th minute when Debinha headed home a cross by Hallie Mace, taking advantage of a defensive lapse by the Thorns.

The match was the first by a pro league in the U.S. since all pro leagues stopped regular play March 12. The match was also the first to be broadcast on a major network in the eight years of matches.

The tournament continues to July 26, with the final being broadcast on CBS.

Portland's second match is Wednesday against the Chicago Red Stars, at 9:30 a.m. The match will be streamed by CBS All-Access. 



June 26, 2020

The National Women's Soccer League is headed for uncharted waters Saturday with the opening match of the Challenge Cup - namely its media partnership with CBS.

The opening match pitting Portland Thorns FC and the North Carolina Courage is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on CBS, the first time a women's professional soccer match will be broadcast on one of the four major networks.

CBS signed onto a three-year exclusive partnership with the NWSL on March 11, when the league was set to open play on April 11. Later that day, Rudy Gobert of the NBA's Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 and all major sports leagues as well as NCAA sports began cancelling events. The NWSL is the first league to begin play.

Twitch, the media app owned by Amazon, also agreed to a partnership to be the exclusive international media partner - on March 11. 

CBS will also cover the Challenge Cup final, July 26. All other matches will be streamed on CBS All-Access, a service available for $5.99 monthly. Twitch will provide streaming service for free to fans outside of the U.S. and Canada.

All Cup matches will be played at Zions Bank Stadium in suburban Salt Lake City, with the semifinals and final being played at Rio Tinto Stadium - the home field of the NWSL's Utah Royals FC and MLS side Real Salt Lake - in Sandy, Utah. Since the league began in 2013, it has had media partnerships with Fox Sports, ESPN and Lifetime, but none of those resulted in a regular broadcast match.

CBS is one of a number of partnerships the NWSL signed in the months following the U.S. win in the World Cup beginning with Budweiser in July.

COVID-19 has not diminished partnership interest in the league, which announced Google as one today. Google plans to use its app Google Meet to provide virtual cheering sections for Challenge Cup matches. Verizon signed on in late May, and Procter and Gamble agreed to a partnership for its Secret brand in winter as well.

Nutritional supplement company Thorne continues to be a partner as does Nike.

Nike extended its partnership through 2022. 



May 24

The Portland Thorns FC announced their 26-player roster Tuesday in advance of the NWSL Challenge Cup that begins Saturday, and most of the regular names were on the list.

Christine Sinclair, Lindsey Horan, Adrianna Franch, Becky Sauerbrunn - all members of the US National Team - are set to play, as is international star Rocky Rodriguez of Costa Ria.

One name not on the list is US National Team star Tobin Heath, who decided not to play.

The team's top two draft picks: forwards Sophia Smith and Morgan Weaver, will play their first matches when the Thorns take on North Carolina at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in the opening match of the month-long tournament.

Saturday's match is set to be televised by CBS, one of two matches the network is scheduled to broadcast. The other is the final, July 26.

All matches will be played at Zions Bank Stadium in suburban Salt Lake City, Utah, or Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The semifinals and final are the matches set for Rio Tinto, the home of both NWSL side Utah Royals and Major League Soccer side Real Salt Lake.

Eight of the nine NWSL teams have entered into the tournament. Orlando withdrew Monday citing at least 10 players or staffers who've tested positive for COVID-19. The NWSL announced one player or staff member had tested positive for the virus last week at the practice facility where teams were practicing next to Zions Bank Stadium, but no more information was available from the league, and preparations were not affected.

Portland has not announced any positive tests among its players or staff.

2020 Thorns FC NWSL Challenge Cup roster
Goalkeepers (3): Bella Bixby, Britt Eckerstrom, Adrianna Franch (FED-USA)

Defenders (9): Kelli Hubly, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Menges, Meaghan Nally (CDP), Madison Pogarch, Katherine Reynolds, Becky Sauerbrunn (FED-USA), Autumn Smithers, Christen Westphal

Midfielders (6): Celeste Boureille, Lindsey Horan (FED-USA), Emily OgleRocky Rodríguez (INTL), Angela Salem, Gabby Seiler

Forwards (7): Simone Charley, Marissa Everett, Tyler Lussi, Anika Rodriguez, Christine Sinclair (FED-CAN), Sophia Smith (CDP), Morgan Weaver (CDP)

CDP – 2020 NWSL College Draft pick
FED – Federation Player
INTL – International Player


Timbers get their sked

Portland's three MLS Challenge matches begin July 13
Staff Report

Two weeks after grouping teams for the upcoming MLS Bracket Challenge, the league released the schedule for the event that begins July 8.

The Portland Timbers earned an opening match five days after the event begins as part of being in Group F.

Portland faces the LA Galaxy in its opener, with matches against Houston on July 18 and LAFC on July 23 to follow.

The event is set to close out August 11.

All matches will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

Orlando is also the site for the NBA reboot set for late July.

Three matches will be played during the MLS tourney, with one match in the morning and two in the evening on most days.

Portland's matches are all at 5 or 7:30 p.m. Pacific time and available for live viewing on FS1 or ESPN2.


NWSL, Thorns ready for action

Women's soccer returns Saturday, and on CBS, too
By Cliff Pfenning,

It’s almost “go” time for the return of pro team sports in America with the National Women’s Soccer League set to kick off Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Fittingly, the Portland Thorns will be involved in the opening match, putting the league’s most successful franchise up against the North Carolina Courage - the league’s second-most successful franchise. And, it will be televised on CBS - the actual network and not a streaming service. It’s the only match of the month-long tournament scheduled for CBS until the final, July 26. All other matches will be streamed on CBS All-Access ($5.99/month) as well as Twitch - for fans outside the U.S. and Canada.

The NWSL is the first league to begin play, albeit in a tournament form, since all leagues stopped the evening of March 11 due to fears from the COVID-19 outbreak.

The NBA and MLS are scheduled to return to some form of play in July, but the NWSL is the first to return to actual physical contact just as European soccer leagues have done in the past month. 

The return comes at a unique time as the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing in many states, including Utah. All the matches will be played at the 5,000-seat Zions Bank Stadium, located in suburban Salt Lake City, with the semifinals and final at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The tournament hit an unexpected snag when Orlando removed itself after more than a dozen players and staff members tested positive. The league, released a modified schedule for the remaining eight teams Tuesday.

The tournament has a number of unique elements such as there’s no extra time in any match and no draws. Each match will have a winner, decided on penalty kicks if it ends in a tie after 90 minutes

Significant testing, social distancing and no on-site fans are part of the plan for the tournament.


Dreams and sports will always go together

Ranking the top sports movies
By Cliff Pfenning, Publisher

When I rank movies, regardless of the type of list, I use the same system to get the result - can or will I watch this movie again. This means picking up the movie at virtually any point and following it to the end. It’s a movie that even though I know what’a going to happen and can in most cases recite the dialogue as it happens, I’ve got an attachment because of the script and casting.

These are the movies that do that best in the sports category - none of which I saw in a theater, but on network television of as a VHS rental.




I didn’t see this film until reading the owners of one of the two fields used for production of the film had decided to grow corn again. The other field, of course, is a national landmark and might be the site of a regular season game this summer if the Majors are allowed to play. The performances of Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Amy Madigan and Ray Liotta showed off some fabulous casting. The story they weave through is wonderful fiction, the kind that might make you ... well, dream about the greatness of the game of baseball and how it can provide a hand in making personal amends in ones history with family.


ROCKY, 1976


Two pieces of greatness of this film are that Sylvester Stallone wrote it for himself to star in, and it’s the movie that gave the world the steadicam, created by one its production crew. Stallone’s script is more about the personal development of the characters than it is with boxing, which helped the film win the Academy Award for Best Movie. Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Talia Shire, even Burt Young  grow from being nobodies to characters who an audience has an emotional attachment with that survives Rocky actually losing the big fight at the end. And, all those sequels - Rocky III almost made this list.




One big question about this film is when do you share it with your son? Kids nowadays don’t seem to be able to laugh at the basic obsenity that makes this movie so memorable. Again (even though it was released a year before “Field of Dreams”), Costner is fabulous casting as “Crash” Davis, and Tim Robbins is memorable as the over-talented Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh, both walking us through the highway of life at the lowest level of pro baseball. Maybe it’s more vibrant than the majors. Susan Sarandon’s Annie Savoy puts the film onto this list.  




Like Rocky, it’s a drama you get into because of the acting, primarily Paul Newman. Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott and Piper Laurie are great casting that carries you through more than two hours. The lengthy billiards scenes are so much different than the chase or fight scenes of modern action films in that they have dialogue that adds to the drama of the story. You wouldn’t think about getting up and buying a beer in a theater because the story keeps developing. And, it led to one of the great sequels for any movie - “The Color of Money,” three decades later. 




I can laugh all the way through this movie because of how stupid it is, which pretty much makes the best comedies. There’s so many wonderfully dry comedic performances. Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight and whoever played Danny (a very young Michael O’Keefe) move the story along one laugh at a time. In watching a very funny dockumentary on the film, you learn producers realized late in filming that Murray and Chase hadn’t appeared in the same scene, which led to Chase hitting a ball into Murray’s disheveled bungalow where he displays his development of varieties of marijuana that could become the “grass” of future golf courses. Kenny Loggins’ soundtrack got me to buy the album. 

Herbert stays on West Coast

Oregon QB drafted 6th overall by Chargers
Staff Report

The winter of questions regarding Oregon senior Justin Herbert and his status among the NFL reached a level of solitude Thursday after he was selected sixth overall by the Los Angeles Chargers.

Herbert, who started for some or all of the past four seasons in Eugene, led the Ducks to the 2019 Pac-12 Conference title and Rose Bowl win, but had plenty of doubters heading into the draft. Those were left behind by a team that has not had to deal with the quarterback position for the past 14 years - the Phillip Rivers era, and Herbert was seen as the team's starter almost immediately.

He was the third quarterback selected after Louisiana State's Joe Burrows first to the Cincinnati Bengals and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa fifth to the Miami Dolphins.

The Draft was held in a virtual mode due to social distancing requirements caused by COVID-19.

Ohio State had players picked at No. 2 - defensive end Chase Young by the Washington Redskins, and No. 3 - cornerback Jeff Okudah by the Detroit Lions.

With the Chargers, Herbert will be inheriting a corps of stand-out receivers in Keenan AllenMike Williams and Hunter Henry. He also has a top-notch running back in Austin Ekeler, who recorded 993 receiving yards and caught eight touchdown passes last season.

The Chargers have reached the Super Bowl just once - 1994, when the team was quarterbacked by Oregon grad and Hall of Famer Dan Fouts.

Timbers, MLS begin road back to business

Individual workouts are active at training facilities
Staff Report

The MLS season is still on hold with no return date in sight, but players were given the go-ahead by league officials to start working out on company land and they did Thursday.

With their training facility separated into zones, several Portland Timbers started workouts to return to game-day condition, and they were more than happy to get that return nod.

“It felt almost therapeutic to be back out there on the field ...,” Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse said, speaking to the media from his home via a Zoom video conference. "To get out there and see some of the other faces, as well, even if it’s from a distance. The bond felt closer today.”

“[T]o be in such safe conditions was really, really important to my mental health."

Players took rotating shifts on the Timbers’ field, with the pitch divided into personalized quadrants to endure social distancing. For sanitation purposes, players were responsible for maintaining their own equipment and gear, with daily wellness quizzes as well as temperature checks ensuring anyone exhibiting symptoms of the novel coronavirus did not have access to the grounds.

“We have been waiting for a long time to be able to come back to the facility, to be able to train,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “One thing that we definitely miss is having the players here, training in our field – being here, around, doing our job.”

“It’s amazing to be here …,” captain Diego Valeri said. “Obviously, it’s nice to start working out again on a field, with different kinds of spaces, even with social distances, watching our teammates training, too.”

Portland split its first two matches - both played at Providence Park, when the season was put on indefinite hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak.


Timbers, Pilots share a common denominator

Harry Merlo not only supported UP's program, he owned the Timbers
By Cliff Pfenning,

Harry Merlo.

The name is recognized for the University of Portland's prized soccer field (how many fields actually have grass on them anymore?), and as a supporter of sporting events in the 80s by Oregonians family with the state's history.

But, most people don't know of his history with the Portland Timbers - as owner for three seasons through through the lumber company Lousiana Pacific, which he was president of for 22 years.

With the team ready to fold, Merlo came to the rescue in 1980 and provided plenty of cash and optimism - including the franchises indoor team - in rollicking days of the North American Soccer League.

Portland had already established itself as Soccer City, USA, in the stands, and Merlo sought to take advantage of that on the field through signing European players. But, it didn't take and the team finished above .500 in just one of those three seasons. With the team unprofitable at the close of the '82 season, Merlo looked for a buyer but none arrived. The team folded.

The three extra years, though, helped Soccer City, USA, long into the future, though, as many influential figures in the Rose City's soccer history arrived, or remained here from their home bases in Great Britain.

The story of Portland's soccer roots are covered in 

Oregonsports Journal


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