PORTLAND, Ore. – They’ll play two more times this season, meaning over the NWSL’s final 14 rounds, Portland Thorns FC and Reign FC will spend more than 20 percent of their minutes lined up against each other. Given where those games fall, though, each are likely to have a drastically different feel.
Sept. 29’s will be two weeks before the playoffs, with at least one of the teams likely to be fighting for their playoff lives. Given how tight the NWSL is this season, it might be both. The same feeling Portland and Seattle had when they met at the end of the 2018 season, they’ll feel near 2019’s close.
August 7, though, will be the first meeting where both teams should have their full squads. Adrianna Franch, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and Emily Sonnett are still away at the World Cup, as are Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe and Jodie Taylor for the Reign. A month from now, both sides should get a better idea of how they stack up against their full-strength, playoff-caliber rival.
Friday’s match, though, will be unique for other reasons (8pm PT, TICKETS, Yahoo! Sports). The first set of World Cup returnees have arrived for each side, meaning players like Andressinha, Ellie Carpenter, Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso and Christine Sinclair will be at Thorns head coach Mark Parsons’ disposal. With the Reign also incorporating a number of returning players, Friday’s derby finds each side, despite early success, at a point of transition.
For Reign FC, a victory at Providence Park will vault the team top of the NWSL. For Portland, a win will give them four points on the field ahead of the league’s weekend schedule.
Here are three keys to Friday night’s match in Goose Hollow:
Incorporating? Reincorporating? I’m not sure about the right term for the five Thorns who’ve returned from the World Cup, especially since two of them played last Saturday in Houston. But the words have earwormed me for the last 48 hours, and now I’ve got this old-man nonsense stuck in my head.
Please, DM me your Kids Incorporated thoughts. Martika is also acceptable.
But back to the Thorns.
Parsons left little ambiguity about how his returning talents might factor into Friday’s game. While he laid the general groundwork to Wednesday’s media by reiterating, “It depends on each individual,” he also had general optimism about those individuals.
“Right now, as it stands, a couple of days out, everyone’s good to get straight back involved,” he said, “and the part that makes this fun is there’s a crew that has been play and delivering … during this period. It gives us great choices. It gives us great options.”
That “crew” is the team that stayed behind to push Portland to the top of the standings, although that grandiosity is a bit misleading. It’s true that the Thorns are on top of the NWSL, and that’s certainly an enviable position, but the league is so tight, Portland’s only three points up on fifth place. The standings say the team’s been the league’s best performer thus far, but in terms of every club’s goals – Shield, playoffs, championship – that place won’t mean anything if the team falls off.
That doesn’t mean the group’s accomplished shouldn’t be lauded, nor does it mean it won’t impact the rest of the campaign.
“We’ve come into the season with a large roster and had good quality,” Parsons explained, “and now we’re at midseason with a large roster with great quality, because players have maximized their opportunity to develop. They’ve delivered, put points on the board for this club.”
No Jessica Fishlock
This is where I’m supposed to say something trite. “Some things transcend rivalry.” I guess I just said it anyway, but for anybody who’s followed the NWSL from its inception, you know this news can stand on its own.
On Wednesday, Reign FC confirmed that the knee injury Jessica Fishlock suffered last weekend against Utah will end her season. The talismanic midfielder has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and was placed on the season-ending injury list.
“Sport can be so cruel,” Lauren Barnes, Fishlock’s teammate of seven years, said in a statement released by the club. “Jess has been the backbone of this organization from day one and her presence on the field will be truly missed the rest of this season … She will continue to be a leader for this group in so many different ways and we can’t wait to have her back out there with us.”
Fishlock is one of the best players in NWSL history. Part of that is her longevity, having played in every NWSL season, and part of that is her ferociousness. In addition to being one of the best central midfielders in the world, she is emblematic of the type of player you want on your team and hate playing against. She would be a key part of any squad.
And, she’ll also be missed on Friday. The NWSL is a competition, of course, but it’s core mission should be about providing a platform for the world’s best to play and develop. Fishlock is one of the world’s best.
Rivalry … renewed?
Does Reign FC’s move to Tacoma take any bite out of the rivalry? Friday is our first chance to find out, but if we’re honest with ourselves, the rivalry had already been moving to a different place over the last year. The increasing enmity between Portland and the North Carolina Courage had started to overshadow Seattle, while Laura Harvey’s move from the Reign to the Royals has helped feed a sapling of contention between Portland and Utah.
There will always be something with the Reign, though. They still have Fishlock. Later this year, they’ll have Rapinoe, once a proud daughter of Portland. Allie Long. Hope Solo. The tension of the Harvey era. There is too much between the Reign and Thorns to think a 35-mile move would eviscerate the history books.
It’s a different rivalry now. These things do go in phases. Vlatko Andonovski is a different challenge, as are players like Steph Catley, Megan Oyster, Theresa Nielsen and Bethany Balcer. The names change – they always do – but the dynamic only evolves.
Nobody in Portland is here for losing to Seattle. Or Tacoma.