(Image credit- Portland Thorns twitter)
The rivalry between Portland and Seattle is perhaps the fiercest in American soccer, steeped in history dating back to the 1970s and a hatred that spans across all levels and teams, men’s and women’s alike. In the NWSL, that rivalry has flourished as long as the two teams have existed in tandem. Nearly a decade later, while some things have changed — OL Reign adopted a new moniker and moved club operations to nearby Tacoma, Wash. for example — the Cascadia Rivalry has remained the same.
But this Sunday, a new chapter will be written for the Reign organization: a (temporary) return to Seattle for an historic double-header that will pit the Portland and Seattle-area teams across both the MLS and NWSL against each other on the same day at Lumen Field, home of the Seattle Sounders and Seahawks.
“I mean anytime we play Portland it’s always hyped, so it’s even more so that we get to play at home in this big stadium,” said Reign defender Kristen McNabb. “Yeah, we’re pumped. We hate Portland and we can’t wait to play them there.” Reign head coach Laura Harvey, sitting to McNabb’s right, chimed in: “Yes, we do. Yes, we do.”
The Reign and the Thorns will kick off the double-bill at 4pm local time (7pm ET) before the Sounders and Timbers of Major League Soccer play out the nightcap. For Harvey, who had a 6-7-3 record versus Portland during her first stint in charge of the Reign, Sunday’s match will mark the first Cascadia clash since re-joining the team midway through this season. Harvey is excited about the prospect of adding a unique piece to the history of the Portland-Seattle rivalry.
“The chance to be able to play at Lumen was something that we were really excited about,” Harvey said. “Even though you can see that the surface in the field is going to be a little bit different than we’re used to for home games, it’s still obviously very exciting to be able to play there.” (Harvey was referring to the difference in dimensions between Lumen and OL Reign’s usual home venue, Cheney Field in Tacoma, which is much narrower and situated on a converted baseball field.)
Further adding to the importance of the rivalry game are the current standings in the league table: the Thorns have jumped out to first place in the league table with 32 points. OL Reign sits fourth with 22 points. Portland, who have a deep and balanced roster led by young scoring leaders Simone Charley and Sophia Smith as well as international veterans Crystal Dunn, Meghan Klingenburg and Christine Sinclair, are unbeaten in their last ten games, and recently won a trophy after defeating French side Olympique Lyonnais in the Women’s International Champions Cup final. OL Reign have been on a run of their own, winning four of their last five. Both teams will be arriving in form, so Harvey is ready for a tough tactical battle, while also understanding that the pomp and circumstance around the match will give it a different complexion.
“We have to be really solid in our 18-yard box, we have to show our quality in their 18-yard box, if we do that then I think we can obviously get some momentum and get the result that we want. But yeah, they are in a good spot. They are obviously a team at the minute that’s in form. But — I say this all the time — Portland-Seattle just has a different look to it than any other normal game.”
Given the Thorns’ propensity for winning duels and the chippiness common in the rivalry, McNabb is expecting a physical game. “I’m definitely a physical player,” McNabb said. “So any time I can get physical and win those duels I’m game, especially when it’s Portland. I love to smash people.” Harvey then chimed in again.
“No one loves a Kristen McNabb smash more than me,” Harvey said.
The Reign have had a dramatic turnaround since their early skid under previous coach Farid Benstiti to launch themselves back into playoff contention. One poignant example of the Reign’s newfound form and swagger came last weekend in their comeback win over NJ/NY Gotham FC. The Reign dug themselves out of a 2-0 hole after an early Ify Onumonu brace to overcome Gotham in the second half with a goal from McNabb and a brace from Megan Rapinoe, who earned last week’s Player of the Week honors.
“I think the thing that we can take from last week’s game is that we have belief in ourselves that we can always come back in and win a game,” Harvey said. “We don’t ever want to get into that position again really, but I think, just the proof of the fact that we have some resiliency and some belief that we can keep pushing … I think the pleasing thing was we never shied away from who we wanted to be in the Gotham game.”
According to Harvey and the Reign’s injury report, striker Eugénie Le Sommer and defender Sam Hiatt could both be available for selection on Sunday. Le Sommer trained all week with no issues after recovering from a concussion. Though Hiatt does not appear on this week’s injury report, she had only participated in one day of training at the time of Friday’s pre-match press conference, so it is unclear whether Harvey will include her in the squad.
OL Reign and Portland Thorns FC will face off in an historic edition of the Cascadia Rivalry at 7pm ET. The match will be broadcast free of charge across the world on the league’s official Twitch channel.