Analysis

5 key moments which have shaped the Thorns-Reign rivalry

ISI Photos-Jane Gershovich

Portland-Seattle has developed into a legitimate NWSL rivalry. These are the games which pushed it toward that.

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Portland’s grand arrival: April 21, 2013

The first-ever meeting between the Thorns and Reign came in just the second week of the NWSL’s inaugural season. It was also the first home match for Portland, and the attendance of 16,479 fans was something out of a fairytale. That figure was larger than any crowd ever produced by WPS, the previous iteration of top-flight women’s soccer in the U.S.

Alex Morgan scored what was eventually the game-winning goal on an assist from Christine Sinclair, and Portland’s love affair with soccer was reaffirmed by its embrace of its new women’s side. The same passion that fans had brought to Timbers games for years felt natural for the Thorns, even if the scale of the crowd remains an anomaly in NWSL – and in most of women’s soccer around the world.

The back-to-back: July 2015

NWSL is known for its ridiculous scheduling quirks (how many times can Chicago open the season in Houston?). Whether a strategic measure or a forced hand in a year in which the World Cup complicated scheduling, the two meetings in a five-day span between Portland and Seattle worked nicely. The Thorns hosted the first meeting a Wednesday night in front of a then-record NWSL crowd of 21,144 fans, and Seattle hosted the second leg that Sunday in front of its largest crowd to date: 6,303.

The first match saw the return of several World Cup players, and while the back-to-back felt like a good way to kill a rivalry when it was announced, the support at each venue marked the pair of games as a success. That wasn’t the case on the field for the Thorns, though, who dropped both results in a season which saw them miss the playoffs for the first time. Seattle went on to win a second straight NWSL Shield – and fall to FC Kansas City in the final for the second straight year.

Back from the break: August 27, 2016

The Thorns and Reign actually met in successive matches again in 2016, too, but with nearly a month between them. Portland narrowly beat Seattle on July 30 in each team’s final match before the Olympic break, handing the Reign a tough loss to sit on in a difficult season.

Seattle bounced back on August 27, however, beating Portland 3-1 to keep playoff hopes alive. Manon Melis scored a brace and Megan Rapinoe’s ridiculous, knuckling shot on the counter sealed the victory in stoppage time and kept Seattle’s playoff hopes alive. The Reign would eventually miss the playoffs by two points, but Rapinoe’s goal, in particular, was a memorable one. Portland clinched the Shield on the final day of the season.

Pinoe’s revenge: July 1, 2017

Megan Rapinoe endured a rough 2016 as she hurried to return from a torn ACL in time for the Olympics. She managed to do so, but her playing time was scarce and effectiveness below par in Rio. The rushed recovery also elongated her proper return to full fitness and strength, a process that pushed into 2017. As Rapinoe and her coaches were reminding everyone early in the year, she hadn’t played a full match in a long time.

Once she was fully healthy, Rapinoe was a new player. Long a dangerous, mercurial winger, she somehow turned herself into an even better player in the year she turned 32 years old. She posted 12 goals in 18 games and was one of the most dominant forces in the league in 2017, reasserting the notion that there is no other player like her in the world.

Two of her 12 goals on the season came against Portland on July 1. Rapinoe’s first tally was an example of how she is always switched on. She pounced on a mistake by Thorns defender Emily Sonnett – caught badly by Seattle for the second straight season – and finished to give Seattle a lead it would not relinquish. Rapinoe’s celebration was also a window into her outgoing personality, as she briefly taunted Sonnett – her U.S. teammate – while celebrating.

A classic away performance: May 10, 2014

It would be unfair to say Seattle bunkered in its first meeting of 2014 with Portland, but the Thorns were certainly the more dominant side. Reign goalkeeper Hope Solo stood on her head, making nine saves as the Thorns peppered her goal.  

Seattle, however, had other ideas. A poor giveaway by Becca Moros at midfield led to Kim Little – eventual 2014 league MVP – going to goal 1-v-1 with Nadine Angerer. Little calmly touched the ball around Angerer and passed it into the net to silence Providence Park.

The loss was Portland’s first of the season, while the victory kept Seattle perfect, with six wins from six matches to start the year. The victory was a key moment in Seattle’s league-record 16-match unbeaten streak to start the season.

The more immediate aftermath of the match saw Solo accused of showing the middle finger to fans, and a brief social media tete-a-tete between Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and then-Reign forward Sydney Leroux. The rivalry had its first real taste of bad blood.

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