The Cascadia rivalry is always an important match for the players and the fans, but there is added significance to this game. The Thorns will clinch a spot in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup Final with a win against OL Reign and a Chicago win or draw against Kansas City NWSL.
The Red Stars and Kansas City were scheduled to play on Tuesday, but due to inclement weather the match was postponed. Those two teams will play at 3:30 p.m. (Pacific) and will be available on Paramount+ and internationally on Twitch.
OL Reign in 2020
The Reign struggled in 2020. They finished the 2020 Challenge Cup 1-2-1, scoring only one goal. Defensively, OL Reign were solid. They allowed two goals in five matches and kept four clean sheets. The Reign drew 0-0 versus Sky Blue (Gotham FC), lost 2-0 to the Houston Dash, won 1-0 over the Utah Royals (Kansas City), drew 0-0 against the Thorns, and were knocked out of the cup after a 0-0 draw with Chicago, which they lost on penalties.
The Reign found more goals in the Fall Series but the results didn’t improve and the defense leaked goals. In four matches they conceded eight goals and scored six. They were beaten by the Thorns twice (4-1 and 2-1) and drew 2-2 and won 2-0 vs. Utah.
OL Reign vs. Houston Dash
OL Reign exhibited some of their features from last year in their first match of the 2021 Challenge Cup. They drew with the Dash 0-0 and did not create many goal-scoring opportunities, but they also limited the Dash. Houston was without a lot of their attacking prowess, missing six players due to international duty including Kristie Mewis, Rachel Daly and Nichelle Prince.
The Reign were set up in a mid-block defensively. They would occasionally press the Dash in an attempt to win the ball quickly and get at the Houston backline in transition. Bethany Balcer did well leading the pressing line and putting the Houston defenders under pressure.
Allie Long was supposed to start but she picked up a knock in the lead up to the match and was unable to play. She was replaced by Angelina and Shirley Cruz served as the deepest-lying midfielder (in the space typically occupied by Long).
OL Reign were repeatedly caught upfield, which allowed the Dash to run into space. The absence of Long was felt defensively because the Reign did not have a midfielder who stayed back to screen the center backs.
The Reign struggled to create dangerous opportunities and get numbers forward. When Houston was able to play through the counter-press, the Reign defense would occasionally collapse, offering space for the Dash to exploit.
Throughout there were very few chances for both sides. Balcer created some half-chances through her pressing and the Reign looked dangerous on set-pieces. Occasionally, the Reign found space over the top when defenders played cross-field passes to the forward line.
In the second half, the Reign had better rotation and spacing in the midfield and were able to get Sofia Huerta the ball higher up the pitch, which made the Reign more dangerous, especially when Cruz was able to combine with Huerta.
Late in the match, coach Farid Benstiti introduced Tziarra King, Jasmyne Spencer, and Nicole Momiki, who all provided sparks off the bench with very limited minutes.
Portland Thorns vs. OL Reign
Both teams will see the return of their international players who missed the first two matches of the Challenge Cup. Megan Rapinoe, Jess Fishlock and Quinn return for OL Reign. Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Becky Sauerbrunn, Christine Sinclair, and Sophia Smith will be back in Portland and ready for selection.
Sinclair was not in the squad for Canada’s second match of the international break versus England. She came off against Wales after injuring herself while putting in a sliding challenge but will be available tonight.
“[Sinclair]’s great,” said coach Mark Parsons in the pre-match press conference. “She’s healthy. She’s ready to go. She’ll be playing in this game without a doubt. Everyone’s in a great spot. Everyone’s returned well, transitioned well. I wish I could say that me or the staff did something magical to help the transition. I think players have been exceptional.”
Emily Menges and Rocky Rodriguez are listed as questionable for the Thorns. Kelcie Hedge, Sam Hiatt and Ally Watt will be unavailable for the Reign.
Allie Long may also be unavailable and is listed as questionable, which would be a big miss for OL Reign because she is the key cog that makes the OL midfield tick.
It is hard to predict how these teams will line up with the return on their internationals and the inclusion or absence of these players could drastically affect how the teams play. Rivalry matches are also difficult to predict but both teams will be doing everything in their power to win this match.
Portland will know beforehand whether a win sends them to the final or if it takes them one step closer to the final. OL Reign will look to pick up their first win of the season and will do everything in their power to prevent their rivals from reaching the final.