It’s been 1,047 days since Megan Rapinoe scored for OL Reign, and to end that streak she scored an incredible free kick in one of the biggest games of the week in U.S. soccer — a 2-1 Reign win on the road against the team’s biggest rival, Portland Thorns FC.
There was absolutely no way Rapinoe was missing this match. The forward, who is back with OL Reign after taking the 2020 matches off due to Covid-19 concerns, was carrying a few small injuries during the Challenge Cup and hadn’t been getting the minutes she wanted. She went 69 minutes on Sunday, making her mark on the Cascadia derby in style.
“Outside of playing international football, this is the biggest and the best and the most fun game that you could possibly play,” Rapinoe said in an entertaining post-match press conference. “Obviously, I haven’t been able to enjoy a lot of football lately. I’ve had a couple nagging injuries and this and that, and not the minutes that I want. So to be able to play in such a big game like this for us, obviously to be able to score a goal, I had so much fun.”
After scoring the free kick, Rapinoe ran over and celebrated in front of the Rose City Riveters — the supporters section behind the goal. She talked about that moment after the game, giving a nod to Portland’s rowdy fans.
“Obviously, the Thorns fans need no introduction. They’re incredible. They have one big problem though, it’s that they love me. So it’s really difficult for them to cheer against me. When I scored, I had to go right over and really talk my shit. And I was trying to talk shit to them, and they just kind of didn’t know what to do. And then finally someone gave me like a big double fuck you, middle fingers up, and I was like, ‘That’s what I’m talking about!’ Like, that’s the kind of rivalry that we want.”
Here’s another great angle of Rapinoe’s goal and the middle fingers she was greeted with while celebrating. Amazing.
In many ways, it’s been a while since a Reign/Thorns match has felt like a true rivalry battle, where tactics go out the door and the two teams just battle it out for a win. Sure, there were tightly contested affairs, upsets, and physical play in the last few years. But in 2020, the fans were missing and Portland overpowered the Reign in the Fall Series. Even before that, for one reason or another, these games just felt like any other match.
Sunday’s affair at Providence Park had everything that has made this rivalry one of the best in women’s soccer, and Rapinoe played a big part in that — not only with her goal but her joyful celebration that intended to rile up the home crowd.
Rapinoe again addressed this in true Pinoe fashion. When asked about the spiciness of the match, she said, “You know, Thorns are always assholes. Everyone hates them, right? That’s the general vibe. They’re always good. They’ve got the best stadium, they’ve got the best fans. You know, they always have incredible talent on the field. So everybody’s always going for you. You got a big target on their back always, which I think for them is a privilege.”
Rapinoe added a few more thoughts on how much she and the other Reign veterans love playing in these Cascadia matches. “I love the rivalry. Obviously, being an OG in this rivalry, you know, coming down here a lot, losing tough games here, winning tough games here, and vice-versa at our home. We always love coming down here, and I think that was a big point for us to kinda like juice everyone up. We knew it was gonna take a big performance and much more than just tactics or what we’re doing on the field to get this win.”
It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but OL Reign did just what they needed to win. In getting the road victory, the Tacoma club ended a number of streaks for the Thorns. Portland hadn’t given up more than one goal in 15 straight matches and hadn’t lost in 308 days. It had been 620 days since the Thorns had lost at Providence Park. Oh, and they hadn’t lost to the Reign in four matches either.
With a lot of new players coming to the Reign soon, and the Olympics causing some roster shuffling as well, Rapinoe knows how important it was for the team to get a win like this early in the season. That it was against Portland only made it better.
“I think this is one of the best wins that we’ve had against them, either home or away, just considering everything.” She went on to add, “I’m so proud of the team. Huge performance. To be able to lock in and score two goals here and lock in for the rest of the game and take three points home as we leave tonight is massive for the season. This is a big win for us.”
On top of that, Rapinoe knows just how much it means to the league to keep the Reign/Thorns rivalry going.
“You know, our aspirations are championships. So if we want to win that, we’re going to have to win ugly. We’re going to have to win nice. We’re going to have to win pretty, we’re going to have to win fun, and we’re going to have to be able to kind of grind it out and win these ones. I think, especially because the rivalry has kind of gotten a little lukewarm, this one felt like a real one, like the ones that we’re used to. And I think just for both teams and for the league that’s a really positive thing. And to be able to play in these big environments like this is just everything you dream of as a player.”