OL Reign was the last to join the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup party last Friday. The Reign made their tournament, and season, debut by drawing with the Houston Dash, 0-0.
A point is better than nothing. Now, the Reign are heading down the highway to take on their Cascadia rival, Portland Thorns. The Thorns are in first place in the West Division of the 2021 Challenge Cup, leading the pack with six points from two games played.
OL Reign has a change to provide a major upset against Mark Parsons, Christine Sinclair and company. Here are five things we are keeping an eye out for in tonight’s OL Reign and Portland Thorns contest.
Will Allie Long make her 2021 debut?
Allie Long was originally slotted in the midfield in the OL Reign starting lineup against the Dash. However, in pre-game warmups Long pulled up with what OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti said was a calf injury, forcing her out of the match.
Brazilian youngster Angelina took her starting spot. In the first half she and Shirley Cruz often found themselves in the same space, but after some halftime adjustments she drifted more wide and the midfield cohesion improved significantly. Angelina and finished the match with 41 passes, finding success on 75.6%. She had a shot on target, too, forcing Lindsey Harris to make a save.
Benstiti might roll with the hot hand and play Angelina to start. However, Long is listed as questionable on the OL Reign injury report so there’s a chance she could suit up against her old club. Whether she starts or not is the big question.
What will the defense look like?
OL Reign fans were stunned to see Lauren Barnes sit out an entire match, despite being available for selection. Barnes, a longtime member of the Reign, dressed, but did not substitute into the match.
Instead, Benstiti selected a back four of Kristen McNabb, Madison Hammond, Amber Brooks and Celia Jimenez Delgado. Hammond had a strong Fall Series campaign last year, but to see Benstiti choose the 24-year-old over a longtime veteran was surprising to say the least.
Will Barnes earn the starting nod, or will she be a super substitute?
Will the internationals play?
Quinn, Megan Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock returned from international duty late last week and took in last game from the stands, spending some quality time with former Reign striker Beverly Yanez and her daughter.
Rapinoe didn’t play for the club at all in 2020. Fishlock spent the second half of the year on loan in England, and Quinn went to Vittsjö GIK in Sweden. Will the internationals suit up? The three players weren’t listed on the Reign injury report, so all three should be eligible for selection. This could be the first time we see the Reign at full power under Farid Benstiti.
Who scores the first Reign goal of 2021?
The Thorns have a tough defense. Depending on where Meghan Klingenberg plays, the Thorns could up against the Pittsburgh native, along with Natalia Kuikka, Christen Westphal, Madison Pogarch and Kelli Hubly.
It will be a tough task for the Reign to find a goal, but not impossible. The Thorns gave up a goal in the first Challenge Cup match against Kansas City.
Shirley Cruz? Leah Pruitt? Bethany Balcer? Sofia Huerta? Tziarra King? Rapinoe?
It’s hard to tell who will do it, but the Reign have a lot of good options up front. Finding a goal against the Thorns will be a mountain of a task, but there are players that are capable of answering the call.
A real rivalry is back
The NWSL doesn’t have too many geographically based rivalries. Now that Louisville is in the league, there is an argument for a Midwest rivalry between Chicago and Louisville. However, the original rivalry is between Cascadia teams, Thorns and Reign.
Last year, the two sides met up twice. Raquel Rodriguez and Shirley Cruz made history. Battles were fought in the midfield. There were many fouls. But what was missing was the key component to any rivalry: the fans.
At Providence Park tonight, there will be fans — and a good number, at that. Having fans back for Portland against the Reign is going to make this Cascadia rivalry feel like the real thing again.
Match Info: Portland Thorns host OL Reign
Who: Portland Thorns vs. OL Reign
When: Wednesday, April 21, 7 PM PT/10 PM EST
Where: Providence Park; Portland, Oregon.
TV: CBS Sports Network (US/Canada)
Streaming: Twitch (International)