OL Reign and the Portland Thorns will face off at 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday in the 38th meeting of the NWSL’s fiercest rivalry.
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 two most recent matches were part of the 2023 Challenge Cup tournament.
Portland’s regular-season win against OL Reign marked their first on the road in Seattle since 2017. And the Reign will be looking to return the favor in Saturday’s matchup on their home turf. Even more is at stake this time around, with four matches left in the regular season. Portland sits second in the NWSL with 29 points, while the Reign are fourth with 27 points.
Both teams are missing key players: The Thorns are without Sophia Smith due to an MCL sprain, while goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce recently was whisked away by Manchester United.
The Cascadia Cup match will take place on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 10:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. local time). Viewers can watch the rivalry match on Paramount+.
Give the ball to Jordyn Huitema. The 22-year-old forward has seven goals across all NWSL competitions this season, leading the Reign. She’s also been among the best in the league in blocks (1.50 per 90), clearances (1.22 per 90) and tackles (1.50 per 90). Her 5.1 xG per game ranks eighth in the NWSL, and her 46 aerials won ranks third in the league. In short: Huitema has been all over the field for the Reign this season, and they’ve reaped the rewards.
The loss of Tullis-Joyce certainly will be felt, although Claudia Dickey has come into her own over the last two matches, having played in place of the former starting keeper. She’s allowed just two goals during those two games, one win and one loss. She’ll face arguably the biggest test of her career Saturday, and it’ll be a good indicator of where the Reign stand in net from here on out.
Defensively, the Reign will want to be better than they have been against a team that is one of the best in the league at shot creation. The Thorns’ 31.06 shot-creating actions per 90 ranks first in the NWSL, far ahead of any other team in the league (Louisville is second with 24.67 shot-creating actions per 90). If the Reign want to get the win on the road, they’ll have to find a way to keep the Thorns from doing what they do best.
One other thing to manage? The crowd. OL Reign are no stranger to the animosity they face from Portland fans, who can often act as a sixth man.
“What I love so much is that [the fans] truly hate Seattle as much as we all do,” Meghan Klingenberg told Just Women’s Sports earlier this week. “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.”
Megan Rapinoe is preparing to play her final regular-season match against Portland. Perhaps goal would be a fitting send-off for one of the game’s best in one of its fiercest rivalries.
Let Christine Sinclair cook.
The 40-year-old forward, who is also the Thorns’ captain, has been the driving force behind this rivalry, and she has scored 11 goals in her 31 all-time matches against the Reign. Eight of those goals have come since the beginning of 2020. In that time, the only player with more goals against a single opponent is Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch, who has nine goals against North Carolina.
She also knows what the rivalry means, having been part of it long before stepping on the field for the Thorns. The hatred runs so deep, she punctuated the Thorns’ championship celebration last November with a hearty: “F–k Seattle!”
The Thorns will be without Smith, who remains sidelined with an MCL sprain. They’ve felt her absence, with a 1-1 draw against Washington and a 2-1 loss to Racing Louisville in their last two outings. Facing their rival, they’ll need to be on top of their game offensively. Luckily, they’re one of the best teams in the league when it comes to offense, having outscored opponents by 13 goals this season. That goal differential is nearly double that of any other team.
Portland is the second-best passing team in the league, with a 75.7% completion rate. And the Thorns’ 38.7% shots on target percentage is first in the league. On paper, they blow the Reign out of the water offensively. But reality could be another story. On Saturday, they’ll need to lean into what has made them one of the best teams in the league this season if they want to get back-to-back regular-season wins against the Reign.