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Meghan Klingenberg knows the stakes of Thorns-Reign rivalry: ‘F–k Seattle’

Meghan Klingenberg leads the Thorns’ huddle during a Challenge Cup game against OL Reign this season. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

When facing a fierce rival in the midst of one of the tightest NWSL playoff races in recent memory, Portland Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg is in favor of keeping things simple. The Thorns are currently in second place in the league table with four games left in the regular season, only one point behind the first-place San Diego Wave. And while the stakes are high, they are taking things one game at a time.

The next match on the schedule happens to be a massive opportunity against Cascadia rivals OL Reign on Saturday, but Klingenberg has the veteran knowledge to know that sometimes larger narratives can get in the way of the task at hand.

“I feel like there’s a story that people like to tell, because it’s a good story,” she wryly tells Just Women’s Sports. “But no, we take every team seriously. And as much as we love rivalry games, and as fun as they are, we approach them the exact same way that we would approach any other match.”

In professional sports, players can write themselves into history by not getting swept away by the moment, but the heightened emotions surrounding events like the Cascadia rivalry are also impossible to ignore.

While she’s keeping things in balance, Klingenberg knows no one heightens the moment quite like Portland fans, who will again pack Providence Park on Saturday. The 35-year-old has played in a number of iterations of the matchup since joining the Thorns in 2016 and making the city of Portland home.

“What I love so much is that [the fans] truly hate Seattle as much as we all do,” Klingenberg says. “And I feel like it’s this grudge that the city holds against Seattle as a bigger, more well-known city. But we love it, we have a blast playing into that story.

“Every time Seattle shows up here, it’s always extra fun because I know the fans are going to be super loud and I can barely communicate to the people next to me. That’s how crazy it is.”

The Thorns successfully handled that pressure earlier this year, taking a 2-0 win at Lumen Field in Seattle to earn their first away victory over the Reign in five years. Klingenberg has started all 16 matches she’s played in this season, registering three assists and leading a defense that has contributed to the Thorns’ league-leading +13 goal differential.

“I think once we start putting pressure on ourselves, we play tight, we play a little bit scared, and I don’t want our team to play that way,” the 2015 World Cup champion says. “I want our team to play free, I want them to have fun, play with joy, and when we do that, we play at our best.

“I think sometimes people like to — from the outside — like to make it feel like it’s a bigger deal than it really is,” she goes on. “But when it comes down to it, it’s 11 players vs. 11 players on the same size pitch, with the same refs, with the same ball every single game. And the only thing that changes about it is how you think about it.”

Even when focused on the task at hand, Klingenberg still enjoys the larger storytelling involved. Part of the history of the Cascadia rivalry, beyond regional grudges, is a story of two clubs consistently battling for trophies. The Reign are the current owners of the NWSL Shield and the Thorns are the reigning NWSL champions, and both clubs have had larger-than-life icons of the game pass through their organizations over the years.

“I think something that’s very overlooked in this league is that we have kept the core of our players together over the eight years that I’ve been here,” says Klingenberg, also crediting the Reign, who famously have their own trio of original players from the NWSL’s inaugural season. “I think that type of chemistry and those types of cultures get overlooked in a league that is always just looking for results and always just looking for the next best thing.”

While the benefits of a steady approach have paid clear dividends on the field for both teams, it also strengthens the connection fans feel toward each team and to the intensity with which they play against each other.

“If it’s a different crop of players every year that we play Seattle, who really cares?” Klingenberg says. “Because you’re not creating any villains, you’re not creating any heroes, and I think that definitely plays into the storytelling big time for the fans and for the media.”

The Thorns have their own titans of the rivalry, most notably Christine Sinclair, who has been with Portland since the team’s inception and who scored the game-clincher against the Reign earlier this season. There’s also Reign and U.S. women’s national team legend Megan Rapinoe, enters Saturday’s showdown only a handful of games away from retirement.

In the mind of a Thorns player, even that of a close friend like Klingenberg, Rapinoe will be just another rival player they’ll seek to neutralize.

“From a significance point of a friend, I’m incredibly proud and happy for Pinoe to have this type of sendoff, and I hope we really f—k it up this weekend,” she says. From that perspective: “We don’t give a f—k that Megan Rapinoe is coming to town and it’s her last game.”

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Klingenberg and Rapinoe are longtime friends, USWNT teammates and NWSL rivals. (Michael Thomas Shroyer/USA TODAY Sports)

In the same sentence, Klingenberg likens her longtime friend to players like Colin Kaepernick and Muhammad Ali, as an athlete who has transcended her sport and will continue to influence all genders for years to come.

“We haven’t had a player like [that] in the league or on the national team before,” she says.

It’s with the respect of a rival that Klingenberg considers the boos and jeers a part of the passion for the game, and she imagines Rapinoe will feel the same.

“I also hope that she enjoys the amount of jeering and the energy that everybody’s going to bring to this,” she says.

When the first whistle blows on Saturday, Klingenberg isn’t going to be thinking about boos or cheers, or even about wanting to beat a close rival.

“It’s more just a total feeling of gratefulness and being totally content,” she says. “And just being like, ‘This is it, this is why I play, this is so much fun. I get to be out here in a big game with my teammates, with people I really, truly care about and love, and get to do something that I’m incredibly passionate about in front of fans that are just as passionate as I am.’

“I mean, that’s a moment, that’s the moment to look around and just be like, ‘Wow, this is what I’m doing. I can’t believe I’m still doing this, and I get to do this again.’”

True to form, the message for her teammates isn’t going to be the same as it is for the fans. And when she’s asked for a tagline for Portland’s raucous crowd, Klingenberg keeps it short.

“F—k Seattle.”

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

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

Chicago Sky Upset New York to End Liberty’s Unbeaten Streak

chicago sky's angel reese on the court against new york liberty
Angel Reese registered a near double-double against a strong Liberty side. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Liberty’s unbeaten streak came to an end on Thursday as Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky got the upset win over New York with a final score of 90-81. 

Angel Reese stood out with a near double-double, registering 13 points and nine rebounds. She’s currently the only rookie this season to exceed 10 points in her first three games, and the first player in Sky history to begin their career with three consecutive double-digit scoring games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The outcome may not have come as a surprise to Liberty stars Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, who sung Reese’s praises ahead of the game.

"She’s a workhorse," Stewart told The Post. "She doesn’t stop. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s tough to box out and good at cleaning up for her team offensively and defensively."

"I feel like she’s an energizer bunny," Jones added. "She doesn’t stop moving, she doesn’t stop crashing the boards. Just someone that is gonna be relentless in her approach to getting to the glass and playing tough."

It was the first time Chicago has met New York this season. The game was especially meaningful for new Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who led the Liberty for seven years as a player and joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011.

"This place means a lot to me... I played in that jersey, I adored that jersey, I adored every player that I had an opportunity to play with. The love that I received even today was overwhelming," Weatherspoon reflected after the game.

Following the win, Sky guard Dana Evans had some kind words for her coach.

"I mean, it's just special. She's special," Evans said. "She just breeds confidence in each and every one of us. We love her. We just wanted to go so hard and play hard for her, and I feel like this one was really for her. We really wanted this for her more than anything."

Thursday's victory brings Chicago's record to 2-1, a somewhat unlikely feat given that their offseason featured starter Kahleah Copper getting traded to Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun are now the only undefeated team left in the league this season, and will formidable foes for the Sky as they take their winning streak on the road to Chicago this weekend.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

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