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Portland Thorns vs. OL Reign: What to know about the rivalry

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Portland Thorns midfielder Sam Coffey and OL Reign defender Ryanne Brown battle for the ball during a 2023 match. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL is no stranger to rivalries. And the one between the Portland Thorns and OL Reign rules them all.

Sure, the bad blood between the Southern California expansion clubs has all the makings of a classic. But Angel City FC and the San Diego Wave don’t have the history of the Thorns and the Reign, two franchises that date back to the start of the league.

One of the drivers of the Cascadia rivalry is Portland captain Christine Sinclair, who punctuated the Thorns’ championship celebration last November with a hearty: “F–k Seattle!”

“I would definitely say my hatred for Seattle started with Christine Sinclair,” Emily Menges told Goal in June. “She, more than anybody, did a good job of just kind of spreading that to the players who would come to the team and everybody who has come since. That’s kind of how I first realized that I should be hating Seattle.”

The Thorns have won three NWSL titles, while the Reign have yet to get over the hump, which adds another layer to the animosity between the clubs. Even as OL Reign veteran Megan Rapinoe enters her final regular-season match against the Portland Thorns at 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Portland players know the best way to honor her legacy.

“I think the greatest compliment that I, and we, could give her as the Thorns is to kick her ass when she comes to Providence Park,” Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg said.

Make no mistake, the feeling is mutual. OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey told Goal – without prompting – that they “hate Portland.” At the end of last season, while celebrating the 2022 Shield with fans, Harvey went to her team’s supporters’ section, grabbed the mic and chanted to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”: “We won the shield, we won the league, we won the league at Lumen Field, we won the league and smashed f—ing Portland!”

Meanwhile, Rapinoe is constantly needling the Portland crowd.

“Obviously the Thorns fans need no introduction — they’re incredible,” Rapinoe said after beating Portland in May 2021. “They have one big problem, though. They love me, so it’s really difficult for them to cheer against me. So when I scored, I had to go right over and talk my s—.”

The rivalry even predates the NWSL, tracing its beginnings to the established Cascadia rivalry between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer. So from the very first season, the teams treated each meeting as a grudge match.

“In the first year, it was fun. You kind of could feel it,” said Jess Fishlock, who has spent every NWSL season with OL Reign. “The games are just electric. They are so intense. It’s just a different level of game, you know?”

Since 2013, the two teams have played 37 times across the last 11 years. OL Reign holds the edge in the head-to-head battle, with 15 wins compared to 13 for Portland. Nine of the matches were draws.

Each team has a win against the other this year, with Portland winning 2-0 on June 3, then falling 1-0 on June 28. The most recent meeting, though, ended in a 0-0 draw on Aug. 6. The latter two games were part of the 2023 Challenge Cup.

The most recent regular-season rivalry game took place in Seattle. The 2-0 victory for the Thorns marked their first road win in the series since 2017.

“Every time we play them it’s a battle,” Menges said after that game. “The messaging before the game from (head coach) Mike (Norris) was, ‘Yep, come for the battle, but don’t make it a street fight, make it a boxing match.’ … I think we rose to that occasion and I think that’s what we did.”

Even without injured Thorns star Sophia Smith, who scored a goal in that game, tension and expectations will be high. Expect Rapinoe’s final regular-season match in the Cascadia rivalry to come with fireworks.