After facing each other in preseason and twice already in the NWSL Challenge Cup, OL Reign is heading on the road to take on their rivals, Portland Thorns FC, yet again. The first regular-season Cascadia battle kicks off at 7:30 PM PT on Friday, May 13, and will air on CBS Sports Network. International viewers can watch all the action on Twitch.
(Note: Matches on CBS Sports Network do not stream simultaneously on Paramount+, so you’ll need a cable account, or YouTube or FuboTV account, to access this match.)
OL Reign are 0-1-1 to start the regular season, while Portland is 1-0-0 — they were gifted a bye last week after North Carolina, who they were set to play, advanced to the Challenge Cup final. In their two matches against the Thorns in the Challenge Cup, the Reign went 1-1-0, including a 1-0 win at Providence Park.
You might think that the players won’t be up for this match after facing the Thorns three times already this year. You’d be wrong.
“Whenever Portland and Seattle play each other, it just will always have some extra spice to it. I think if we played each other 20 times in a season, I think it would always be the same. It doesn’t matter how many times we play each other, it’s always going to be there,” head coach Laura Harvey said ahead of the match.
Here are five things we’d like to see in the Reign’s second trip to Portland this year.
Get the traveling supporters amped
Playing in Portland is an experience players in the league look forward to every year. For OL Reign players, part of the joy comes from scoring and having a hush fall over the hostile crowd. For this nationally televised game, over 250 traveling fans are also expected to be in attendance, which should help create an atmosphere akin to what we see for Cascadia clashes on the men’s side. Score early, score often, and demoralize the home fans while giving the away support an experience to remember. — Steve Voght
Be smart in and around the box
In their last two matches, OL Reign players have gotten themselves in some great scoring positions. Unfortunately, they seem to freeze in the box or make the wrong decision to shoot when a pass is open or pass when a shot is the better option. It’s something Harvey addressed after their last match against Louisville.
“When we’re in and around the areas where we need to show some real quality, there’s been some games where we just haven’t done that enough. And you know, when we do, we’re a threat. We always believe that we’re going to get into these positions, but now we’ve just got to really focus in on that little bit of quality in and around the box.”
The Thorns are a defensively sound team that isn’t going to give you many chances. The Reign need to be more decisive and smart when they get themselves into the final third. — Susie Rantz
Stop Sophia Smith
Portland’s attack so far this year has been tied to their ability to get Sophia Smith on the ball. She’s been on fire for club and country. Smith can create separation on the dribble, shoot from ridiculous angles, shoulder off a challenge, and beat defenders to the ball in the box. She’s a real threat.
* chef's kiss * @sophsssmith is absolutely on . #BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/HqxuPsbJPI— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) April 30, 2022
Preventing her chances starts with disrupting passes to the frontline. It also requires a backline that is unwilling to budge. In their last match-up, centerback Sam Hiatt was a ball-winning machine. She won a team-high four tackles and two aerial duels. After the match, Harvey praised the grit that she brought to the backline.
“I went up to her after the game and I told her, she was phenomenal tonight. She was phenomenal. I thought all the backline were excellent defensively. I thought they really, really were put under pressure at times, especially late when we scored, and I thought they all stood up.”
The Reign will need her and the entire backline to step up yet again. — Jacob Cristobal
Break down a tough Portland defense
One noticeable difference between the Thorns of 2021 and the Thorns of 2022 under new head coach Rhian Wilkinson is how much more the team sits back. Portland tries to clog things up in the middle rather than a relentless high press they deployed last season. It has made them hard to score against. In their last matchup, it meant the Reign had some trouble breaking into the final third until a moment of magic from Rose Lavelle.
It might be a bit of a chess match at the start, but OL Reign have figured out a number of ways to break down their opponents in Challenge Cup play. That should give them some confidence for this game.
“I think we learned in [the last game against Portland] that we can play against them in any way we want to really. As long as we do the things that we believe we need to do to get a result, we always have a chance of getting that,” Harvey said. — Susie
Celebrate a 50th appearance with a goal
If our stats are correct, OL Reign’s Bethany Balcer and Veronica Latsko are set to make their 50th NWSL appearances on Friday if they feature in the match. There’s no better way to celebrate the milestone than a goal against your rival — and in your rival’s house. — Jacob
OUT: Crystal Dunn (maternity leave), Marissa Everett (right hip)
How to Watch
OL Reign kick off against the Portland Thorns at 7:30 PM PT on Friday, May 13. The match will air on CBS Sports Network, which means it won’t be available live on Paramount+. International viewers can follow the action on Twitch.