On Sunday, OL Reign hosts Portland Thorns at Lumen Field in what is expected to become the club’s standalone attendance record (aside from the 2021 doubleheader). The Cascadia rivalry match kicks off at 3 PM PT and will stream on Twitch exclusively for all fans.
(Why did the league put a Cascadia derby on Twitch? Your guess is as good as ours.)
In addition to all the intensity of a rivalry game, the match will offer a battle between two sides neck-and-neck in the playoff race. After 10 matches, Portland sits in third with 17 points (1.7 per game) while OL Reign are just behind them with 16 (1.6 per game).
Here are five things you should know ahead of the Cascadia clash at Lumen Field.
Tobin Heath’s debut
Fans should expect to see Kim Little feature again in the midfield for OL Reign, and Tobin Heath will likely make her OL Reign debut against her former NWSL club. Heath spent seven seasons with Portland before making a move to England in 2020 and now has a chance to make a statement against the Thorns. The crafty wing player hasn’t featured in a match since late April, however, so her minutes will be limited as she gets back to match fitness.
Little, meanwhile, managed to create two chances in her return to OL Reign in just 45 minutes — and she just got off the plane less than 48 hours prior. She also had a 94.4% pass completion rate, completing 18 passes the first half. She’ll help the Reign keep possession and dictate tempo in the middle of the pitch.
Absences on both sides
OL Reign will be without eight players who are with their national teams for important World Cup qualifiers: Alana Cook, Sofia Huerta, Rose Lavelle, and Megan Rapinoe with the USWNT, Quinn and new Reign forward Jordyn Huitema with Canada, Jimena López with Mexico, and Angelina with Brazil.
The Thorns are without a player second in the NWSL Golden Boot race, Sophia Smith (8 goals), along with veteran centerback Becky Sauerbrunn and all-time leading Cascadia rivalry goal-scorer, Christine Sinclair. Forward/wingback Janine Beckie joins Sinclair for Canada on international duty, right back/wingback Natalia Kuikka is with Finland for the UEFA Euros, and Rocky Rodriguez is with Costa Rica.
A close rivalry battle
While OL Reign have an advantage in the all-time record against Portland — 13-8-4 — this rivalry has been a tight battle in recent years. The Reign and Thorns have already met three times this season, twice in the Challenge Cup and a regular-season match in Portland. The Reign went 1-0-2 in those games — scoring two goals and conceding one. In the regular season last year, the Reign were 2-0-1 against the Thorns, scoring five goals while conceding three.
Regardless of who makes it into the starting lineup, recent history indicates this should be a battle that often just takes one moment of brilliance to break the deadlock.
A home fortress for OL Reign
The Reign have been dominant at home against Portland. After winning their two away matches against the Reign in the NWSL’s inaugural season in 2013, the Thorns have won just one regular-season match in Seattle/Tacoma (one win, one draw, eight losses). OL Reign’s eight wins against the Thorns are tied for the most home wins against a single opponent in league history. The Reign have also established Lumen Field as a new fortress and remain undefeated at their new home.
Two defensively strong teams
OL Reign has given up a league-fewest six goals in 10 matches, while Portland isn’t far behind them, conceding just eight. Their expected goals against (xGA) are at the top of the league as well, with the Reign giving up .89 xGA per match (good for first in the league) and the Thorns allowing 1.07 xGA per match (third in the league). OL Reign has six clean sheets, Portland has five. While both sides are without a few key defenders on Sunday, they’ll still be two organized teams looking to make it hard for their opponent to score.
On the offensive end, while Portland is scoring 2.2 goals per game compared to .9 for OL Reign, they create a similar number of chances and goal-scoring opportunities per match. The Thorns average 1.68 expected goals (xG) per match while the Reign are at 1.47.
OUT: Tziarra King (Covid protocol), Nikki Stanton (Covid protocol)
QUESTIONABLE: Jodi Ulkekul (illness), Claudia Dickey (illness)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Angelina (BRA), Alana Cook (USA), Sofia Huerta (USA), Jordyn Huitema (CAN), Jimena Lopez (MEX), Rose Lavelle (USA), Quinn (CAN), Megan Rapinoe (USA)
OUT: Crystal Dunn (maternity leave), Emily Menges (right foot), Jada Talley (Covid protocol)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Janine Beckie (CAN), Natalia Kuikka (FIN), Rocky Rodriguez (CRC), Becky Sauerbrunn (USA), Christine Sinclair (CAN), Sophia Smith (USA)