It all came down to tonight.
The regular season finale between Seattle Reign FC and Portland Thorns FC had more sauce than your usual Cascadia rivalry affair would because playoff seeds and the right to host a playoff semifinal next weekend were on the line.
For Seattle, a draw would have been enough for them to secure the second seed and the hosting rights. Portland Thorns FC had to win to leapfrog Seattle and take the two spot.
And they did exactly that tonight at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.
Seattle struck first with the scoring, four minutes in when Jess Fishlock collected a pass from Elizabeth Addo and from just steps outside the 18 yard box, blasted a fireball upper-left for what seemed to be a right out of the box haymaker.
THERE'S ONLY ONE JESS FISHLOCK AND SHE BROUGHT THE SMOKE FOUR MINUTES IN! #PORvSEA https://t.co/tZU4gkUEJx— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) September 8, 2018
However, it only woke up Portland, as the rest of the evening was dominated by the rivals in red. Akin to a boxer’s constant body shots, Portland took advantage of having a full strength squad available and stretched Seattle in the midfield. While Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long were listed on the league’s injury report as questionable, neither made it to Vlatko Andonovski’s roster of 18. What had been the league’s best defense for a great deal of this season was under constant pressure, was stretched end to end, side to side — the likes we hadn’t seen since the June 23 match when North Carolina Courage smoked them for four goals. And at times, it just got plain ugly, with the physicality that left many on social media finding it inexplicable that more bookings weren’t issued and in some cases, some sending offs.
Carpenter with an early cross that just misses the head of Sinc. The ball skips out wide to Heath on the far side where she takes a hard foul from Addo. No second yellow, somehow. #PORvSEA #BAONPDX— Stumptown Footy (@StumptownFooty) September 8, 2018
Portland would get their equalizer in the 30th minute when midfielder and NWSL MVP candidate Lindsey Horan pounced on a second chance ball that wasn’t cleared properly by Seattle and served up her own fireball.
. @Lindseyhoran11 and the @ThornsFC even it up, and Providence Park explodes.#PORvSEA | #NWSLonLifetime pic.twitter.com/yYhsAWEKWB— NWSL (@NWSL) September 8, 2018
Reign FC fans hoped the team would catch their breath and reorganize after the halftime break, but Portland was very much in a groove and kicked it into another gear minutes into the second half.
Portland’s Tobin Heath snuck around defender Christen Westphal to intercept a pass from Morgan Andrews and curl in her own highlight reel goal to make it 2-1, Portland in the 49th minute.
Doing it all. @TobinHeath with the steal and the strike. @ThornsFC with a 2–1 lead early in the second half!#PORvSEA | #NWSLonLifetime pic.twitter.com/fej7fdmpyz— NWSL (@NWSL) September 8, 2018
Portland would get their third in the 82nd when a Caitlin Foord corner found an undisturbed Horan in the box and she got her head on it to claim her brace on the night.
The dagger. @Lindseyhoran11, her head, a corner kick, you know how this one ends. 3–1.#PORvSEA | #NWSLonLifetime pic.twitter.com/WJeQYHSQ2a— NWSL (@NWSL) September 8, 2018
All in all, this was not the way Seattle wanted to close out their regular season. Much will be made about the fact that Seattle was without the services of Rapinoe and Long. Andonovski said this week that they would not risk either one in terms of re-aggravating their respective injuries for this match, with everything on the line next week in the playoffs. That said, what’s been one of the hallmarks of Seattle Reign FC this season has been their depth being able to step up and shine when someone was down. That was not on display tonight. How much of a mental hangover comes from tonight’s result is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say Andonovski and his coaching staff have their work cut out on analyzing film and developing tactics to correct tonight’s mistakes.
While Seattle took the regular season series against rival Portland, 2-1, it’s all a wash now. All that matters is what happens next Saturday down in Providence Park. As it was said throughout the broadcast tonight, Rapinoe and Long will play in that match. Beverly Yanez did make an appearance in tonight’s match, her first appearance since July 21, coming off a fracture in her right foot. Seattle fans can only hope that the next eight days will be just enough for Rapinoe and Long to be proper healthy, along with general fatigue and knocks everyone else got tonight.
And so, it is all hands on deck for next weekend.
Saturday, September 15. Providence Park in Portland, Oregon. 12 PM. Seattle Reign FC versus Portland Thorns FC. NWSL Playoff semifinal. Winner advances to the NWSL Championship to take on the winner of the North Carolina Courage versus Chicago Red Stars semifinal.
If you do not have any plans next Saturday and have the means to hit the road, then there is only one place you need to be.
If the Seattle Reign FC wants to return to the NWSL Championship for a chance to play for the ultimate prize, they will have to go through Portland Thorns FC in their own house, and dammit, they need you to be in the stands supporting them on.