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Reign vs Thorns: the Return of the Dragon

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Seattle's most important player is expected to return to action against Seattle's most important rival.

Round two of this year's edition of the NWSL Cascadia rivalry kicks off tonight at 4pm at Providence Park. Round one was a 1-1 home draw for Seattle — part of a three-game winless run. The Reign had never had a stretch of three games without a win since their dominating run of consecutive Shield seasons began in 2014.

It should be no surprise that that stretch coincided with the absence of Jess Fishlock, who — despite the incredible talents and popularity of Kim Little and Megan Rapinoe — may be the team's most important player. Her limitless work-rate, world-class ballhawking, and deadly finishing make her an irreplaceable part of both the team's defense and offense.

And after playing nearly a full half against Arsenal in a mid-week friendly, she's off the injury report and should be available to start in Portland, a city where she's wreaked havoc since the very beginning of the Reign and Thorn's existence.

Portland will not be adding any important players. In fact, they will be losing nearly half a starting lineup's worth to international absence. The USWNT presence on the Portland squad is large, which is a double-edge sword. And this weekend the Thorns will be getting the sharp end of that sword, as they'll be without Tobin Heath (who also missed the game in Seattle due to a red card), Meghan Klingenberg, Lindsey Horan, Allie Long, Emily Sonnett, and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.

That's not to say the game will be a walkover. In front of their huge home crowd and still fielding the likes of Christine Sinclair and Dagny Brynjarsdottir, the Thorns are a formidable squad. But this is likely Seattle's best chance to get one over on their southern rivals, and with the chance to both get back to their own winning ways and deliver the Thorns their first lost of the season, there's plenty of incentive.