As the tightest playoff push in NWSL history heats up, OL Reign is heading on the road to face their rivals on Saturday evening with a lot on the line. The Reign are just three points out of first place, with three matches remaining after this weekend. At the same time, they are also just three points ahead of the seventh-place team – and only six teams advance to the playoffs.
Every point matters.
The match against the Portland Thorns kicks off at 7:30 PM PT on September 16. It will air on FOX 13+ locally and stream for free on the CBS Sports Golazo Network, along with streaming on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S., TSN+ in Canada, and the NWSL website for all other international viewers.
More than 400 tickets have reportedly been distributed to Reign supporters for the match, which could set an NWSL record for visiting support. Limited tickets remain overall at Providence Park, which means the Cascadia clash should be a loud, raucous affair. It also marks Megan Rapinoe's final regular-season match in Portland, where her college soccer journey began (and where she loves to score).
The Thorns will be without Sophia Smith, who sprained her knee last month, while Rose Lavelle is out for the Reign after getting a knock at the end of the team's match against Orlando.
Here's what you need to know ahead of Saturday's match.
The Reign and Portland have struggled recently. Both clubs are 1-3-1 in their last five regular-season matches. Portland lost to Kansas City, Gotham, and Racing Louisville during that stretch, with the Reign losing to Orlando, Kansas City, and Angel City.
OL Reign is coming off a 1-0 regular-season win at home against the Orlando Pride. Portland fell 2-1 on the road to Racing Louisville last match.
Portland sits in second heading into the weekend with an 8-5-5 record (29 points). OL Reign enters the weekend in fourth place with an 8-7-3 record (27 points).
The NWSL standings are extremely tight. San Diego is at the top of the table with 30 points. The Washington Spirit, currently occupying the final playoff spot in sixth, are just four points behind the Wave. No team can secure a playoff berth or be eliminated from contention this week. The NWSL is wild.
Head to Head
This is the fourth time OL Reign and Portland are facing each other this year. The Reign beat the Thorns 1-0 on the road in the Challenge Cup before a scoreless draw against them at home in the same competition. The Thorns won 2-0 at Lumen Field in the regular season, although the game was tighter than the scoreline suggests. The Reign are 15-13-9 all-time against the Thorns.
- Portland has scored 38 goals while conceding 25. The Reign have scored 25 goals and conceded 21.
- Jess Fishlock is 8 minutes away from becoming just the second player in the league to reach 15,000 minutes with the same club (Lauren Barnes was the first).
- Megan Rapinoe will appear in her 18th Cascadia match across all NWSL competitions. She has nine goals and two assists in these games.
- Morgan Weaver has six goals and four assists in the 2023 regular season.
- Midfielder Sam Coffey, Portland's primary set-piece taker, leads the NWSL with seven assists.
- OL Reign lead the league in headed goals, with 9.
What to Watch
Dangerous on the dribble
Portland is not a team that you want to give time on the ball with space in front of them. In fact, the Thorns are second in the league in progressive carries and lead the league in carries into the final third and penalty box. They've scored a league-leading 11 goals from take-ons – including one against the Reign – and created a league-leading 44 shots.
Even if their most dangerous player on the dribble, Sophia Smith, can't play, that doesn't mean the threat is eliminated. Morgan Weaver is second in the league behind Smith in Opta’s “chance-creating carries” stat, which means a shot or goal came from a player carrying the ball five meters or more.
“Our mindset is always prevention is better than cure with them. They’re fast. They’re powerful. They can get in behind you. How we can solve that is by limiting the amount of service they get,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said earlier this season about Portland.
That means OL Reign will look to cut off dangerous balls into their frontline and press strategically to win the ball higher up the field. As the pass map shows, the Reign actually did this well against Portland in their 2-0 loss, limiting passes into Smith and Weaver, but all Smith needed was one moment to create magic.
Dangerous in transition
Portland is dangerous when teams let the game become open and transitional. The Thorns lead the NWSL in shots (47) and goals (7) from high turnovers. Here are just a few examples: Weaver scored Portland's lone goal against Louisville last match, pouncing on a loose back pass.
Weaver scored the week prior off a nice pass from Sam Coffey after Portland won the ball near half.
And here, Portland pounces on a poor touch from North Carolina, scoring with ease in transition back in August.
Simply put, Portland takes advantage of teams who can't get set defensively. That's how Christine Sinclair scored to put the Thorns up 2-0 back in June, as the Reign let the game open up as they pushed for an equalizer.
Conversely, the Thorns have struggled at times this season when they tried to build out of the back against a high press. Racing Louisville put Portland under constant pressure in their 2-1 win last match – outshooting Portland 26-15. In both halves, Racing came out with early pressure and had Portland on the back foot.
As Harvey likes to say, goals change games. If the Reign can put pressure on the Thorns and score early against Portland, it could change the dynamic of the match. The Reign have the personnel to do that. Portland fullbacks Meghan Klingenberg and Natalia Kuikka like to push high. That means there is space behind if the Reign can find it. Just look at how easily Racing was able to do that against the Thorns:
There's also space in between Portland's centerback pairing if the Reign can exploit it. Gotham's second goal against the Thorns is proof:
Quality in big moments
OL Reign came out dominating in their home match against the Thorns in June – winning the ball high up the pitch with their press. They couldn't find the quality in front of the goal, however, and the Thorns struck when it mattered.
"I think the game was decided by two moments of quality that one team had and the other team didn't, and that's something that we've spoken about as a collective – that we have to get better at those things and when we do have those moments of quality consistently throughout games, we tend to get the result that we want," Harvey said.
That's been a core focus for the Reign in training this week and over the last month. Harvey noted that the team has looked at how they work collectively, honing in on the details that make them great, both with and without the ball. Will that show on the field this weekend?
Injury / Availability Report
OUT: Rose Lavelle (leg)
OUT: Janine Beckie (SEI - knee), Tegan McGrady (ankle), Sophia Smith (knee)
How to Watch
OL Reign kicks off against Portland at 7:30 PM PT. The match will stream for free on CBS Sports Golazo and will air on FOX 13+ in Seattle. It will also be available on Paramount+ in the U.S., TSN+ in Canada, and the NWSL website for other international viewers.