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Jess Fishlock welcomes Cascadia rivalry passion: ‘We just hate Portland’

Jess Fishlock has been a part of OL Reign’s rivalry with the Portland Thorns since its inception in 2013. (John Froschauer/USA TODAY Sports)

OL Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock, in her 11th year in the NWSL, has seen the Cascadia rivalry between Seattle and Portland naturally evolve, with every individual result adding to a larger arc of history. Some of the biggest personalities in the NWSL have filled in the lineups on both sides, with Fishlock as one of the rivalry’s original members.

Speaking to Just Women’s Sports, the 36-year-old rattles off a quick list of players who have graced the matchup in the past: Herself, Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Barnes, Sydney Leroux and Hope Solo on one side, and Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath, Emily Sonnet and Allie Long (the latter three have now played for both teams) on the other. Over the years, tackles came in a little bit harder, and competition felt a little more personal.

“It was definitely more of like, we were at each other’s throats more,” Fishlock says. “I definitely think that the rivalry itself has evolved more to which team is performing better in that moment, as opposed to us wanting to just rip each other’s eyes out.”

Outside of brief loans to other clubs, the Welsh star has been with the Reign since 2013 and has played in many Cascadia battles since the original one. Fishlock remembers both wins and losses, pointing out notable game-winning goals scored by Reign legends Kim Little and Rumi Utsugi. But even the losses carry significance, as reminders of how special the game of soccer can be regardless of result.

“We’ve also lost some games against them that — the games have been incredible. Which you just come off and you just think wow, what a game,” she says

The 2023 Reign aren’t resting on their past laurels. They want to both defend their 2022 Shield-winning campaign and win the club’s first-ever NWSL championship. They currently sit in fourth in the league standings, just two points behind their fierce regional rival and three behind league leaders San Diego. The Reign travel to Providence Park on Saturday with hopes of leapfrogging Portland and contending for the top of the table.

Immediate goals are in sight, but as a veteran player who has stayed at one club for her whole NWSL career, Fishlock can also take a moment to appreciate the impact of the Cascadia rivalry on women’s soccer in the U.S.

“I think it just has so much history for one,” she says. “I feel like this league, the franchises and the teams and the way that league works probably lacks a little bit of history.”

It’s an intense history informed by a regional dislike between Portland and Seattle, as with so many other American sports rivalries. But the Reign try not to let the larger storylines get in the way of playing like themselves.

“It’s more like, we just hate Portland,” Fishlock says. “And so we just really remember that. We don’t do anything different, we don’t have any kind of rituals. It’s just more methodical. It’s still football, but also, let’s not forget how much we hate Portland.”

In a league that’s in its 10th regular season, the ingrained passions of the Cascadia rivalry have been slow to develop elsewhere in the NWSL. Rivalries have to grow organically, instigated by regional proximity but frequently made real by the play on the field. Fishlock scored the Reign’s first-ever goal against the Thorns in their inaugural clash at Providence Park in 2013, setting the emotional tone for the battles to come.

Ten years later, Fishlock is ready to walk into Providence Park once again and silence the Thorns fans, known as the original tone-setters for local support.

“I think women’s sports, well women’s soccer for example, it kind of really needs that,” she says of the way the Rose City Riveters can change a game. “It needs the fans to kind of buy in to remembering that you’re at this game, but you’re actually supporting your team, and what does that look like?”

Sometimes that support looks like rude gestures and sounds like boos. One of the more recent iconic moments in the Reign’s history at Providence Park came in 2021, when Megan Rapinoe received a classic North End reception after scoring an equalizer in the Reign’s eventual 2-1 win.

“I was trying to talk s–t, and to them, and they just did not know what to do,” Rapinoe said at the time. “And then finally somebody gave me a big, double f–k you middle fingers up, and I was like, ‘That’s what I’m talking about. That’s the kind of rivalry that we want.'”

Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe (right) are playing their last season together after 10 years. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

Fishlock sees those types of fan responses as part of an overall passion for the game.

“I’m not going to get offended by them flipping me off, I’m not gonna get offended by them booing me, because it’s actually really respectful for the most part,” she says.

“​​So when we go to Portland and they start flipping us off, and they start booing us, and they get super mad that we’re scoring goals, Pinoe’s scoring goals, that’s what we want, really, because we want to have that kind of personality at the end of the day.”

The Cascadia rivalry will be losing some of that personality at the end of 2023, as Rapinoe heads into retirement after this season. She won’t exactly receive a hero’s welcome in Portland this weekend, but the atmosphere will be worthy of a player of her stature.

“We just hope that she goes down there and she gets the stick that she deserves for being Rapinoe and playing for Seattle, but also the love and respect that she deserves for being who she is,” Fishlock says.

For Fishlock, there’s no sign yet of slowing down. She says she is feeling better after being sidelined with a hamstring issue in July and August, and she announced on Tuesday that she’s exercised her mutual option to stay with the Reign through 2024. She sees Saturday’s game as a singularly important opportunity, but she is also locked in on the bigger picture.

“It’s not just about Portland, it’s also, you’re coming up against a really good football team,” Fishlock says. “So you have to play well, and you have to be prepared well, and you have to be ready for a really hard game.”

The veteran admits she always relishes the opportunity to go into somebody else’s house and beat them. The Thorns pulled off that feat at Lumen Field earlier this season, and the Reign are eager to return the favor. They’ll be in hostile territory, but they’ll also be feeling the support from home.

“I think this is a game against the Portland Thorns that honestly could mean a lot and then do a little bit of damage to the opposition with who wins and who loses,” Fishlock says, before addressing the fans. “We need ya, so let’s go.”

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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