Tonight the 2016 incarnation of NWSL's Cascadia rivalry kicks off at 7pm at Memorial Stadium with the first of four regular season matches between the Reign and the Portland Thorns.
Despite being billed as the best rivalry in the league, and showing all the signs of it in the stands and on social media, on the field it's been rather one-sided. Since the inaugural 2013 season — in which the Reign lost to everyone and the Thorns went on to win the title — Seattle has had Portland's number, going 4-1 against their rivals while outscoring them 10-1.
But this year's Thorns come into Seattle full of confidence. The addition of head coach Mark Parsons has, at least so far, righted a Thorns team that's consistently underperformed its talent. They are one of only two undefeated teams left in the league and a win in Seattle could, depending on other results, put them on top of the standings.
If they do get a result, though, they'll have to do it without Tobin Heath, whom Parsons has made the focal point of his offense. She is suspended thanks to her ejection last week after picking up two pointless yellow cards — by encroaching on a free kick then angrily spiking the ball after a foul call.
Partially making up for the loss of Heath is the expected return of Christine Sinclair from an Achilles injury, and the Reign have their own significant absence. Jess Fishlock remains out for at least a few more weeks with a fractured tibia, and her absence has had a predictable impact. Without her Laura Harvey has pulled Kim Little back into a more withdrawn role, but with Seattle's best attacker so far from the attack, they've only scored one goal in their last two games (which was scored, incidentally, by Little herself).
Whatever happens today, history suggests it won't be a draw. None of the 9 meetings between these two teams has ever ended drawn. If the Thorns win, it could mark the their re-emergence in this hapless run in their most important rivalry and put them into Shield contention. If Seattle wins, they move back into a likely playoff position and re-assert themselves as the Queens of Cascadia.