Ever since top-flight women’s professional soccer came to the Puget Sound, there have been dreams of what a Seattle-Portland rivalry could potentially become.
One particular memory from 2014 sticks out. The Reign had just dismantled the Thorns 5-0 in front of nearly 6,000 fans at Memorial Stadium, then the biggest crowd to ever watch a professional women’s soccer match in Washington. The Reign players and coaches were all beaming about the performance and the atmosphere, but there was also a tinge of disappointment that so much of it was supplied by the 200 or so visiting supporters.
“I think it’s definitely a snapshot of what it could be and hopefully what it’s building to be,” Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe said at the time.
The NWSL has made serious advancements since that game seven years ago. Drawing a few thousand people to a crumbling stadium is no longer seen as aspirational, for instance. Almost every team in the league is playing in stadiums befitting a top-flight league and have hosted crowds that number into the five-digits.
But the Reign have lagged behind a bit in that area. While they’ve routinely assembled some of the most talented rosters in the league, every home game in their history has been played in a facility that seems more in line with a past era.
That all changes — if only for a day — when they host the Thorns in the first half of a Seattle-Portland doubleheader on Sunday.
The Reign will almost certainly be greeted by boom-boom-clap echoing through Lumen Field. The Reign’s normal supporters groups — anchored by The Royal Guard — will be supplemented by the Sounders’ Emerald City Supporters, surely providing a soundtrack unlike any they’ve played in front of before. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
I don’t think I’m the only one. When I asked midfielder Jess Fishlock — like Rapinoe, one of four Reign players who have been here since Year 1 — about hearing “Build a Bonfire” she flashed a quick smile and simply said “Oh yeah.”
While the exact size is hard to guess, the crowd could well end up being closer to four or five times their previous high. Depending on how attendance is tallied, it’s also likely to be an NWSL record.
I suspect that will prove to be somewhat controversial. There are already calls for it to be accompanied by an asterisk, based entirely on it being a double-header. To be fair, this is what MLS eventually began doing around the same time the Sounders started drawing massive standalone crowds.
But how the NWSL counts the attendance at this game is a bit beside the point. The important thing is not how many people the record books say were there or if it's accompanied by an asterisk. No, what’s important is that we all show up and make sure the atmosphere is reflective of whatever that number is.
Honestly, that shouldn’t feel like a big ask. The Reign and Thorns are two of the most talented women’s soccer teams on the planet. Both boast rosters that can stand toe-to-toe with the best teams in the world, and the Thorns actually just won the Women’s International Champions Cup which featured most of the other teams who would be in the running for that title. There will be World Cup winners, Olympic gold medalists and so much star power on the display that it could practically be considered an All-Star Game.
Given that this is not so far off from the quality of rosters these two teams often field, I think it’s fair to say that Fishlock spoke for a lot of us when she said “It’s about time” that this game was played on this stage.
For this game to reach its full potential, though, requires all of us to do our part.
“We’re here for soccer, don’t get me wrong, but it is bigger than that,” Fishlock said earlier this week. “That’s why we want the support and for the fanbases to understand that it is a little bigger than just watching a soccer match. It’s about uniting a stadium, a community and we’re all there for each other.”
Getting the Reign into Lumen Field has been an idea swirling around since at least 2014 when they tried to play the NWSL championship game there, only to be forced to settle for Starfire Stadium. Since then, there have been other close calls only for logistics to get in the way. By showing up and supporting them on Sunday, you’ll not only help make all the work that went into making this happen feel worthwhile, but we can hopefully also assure that it’s not a one-off.
The Reign have made a wonderful home for themselves in Tacoma. Even if a soccer-specific stadium gets built there, however, there should always be room to play the occasional game in Seattle. The players clearly want that, I suspect the fans do too. Let’s make sure we give the powers that be every reason to make it a reality.