The OL Reign haven’t had to worry about Christine Sinclair in a while.
The Portland Thorns FC attacker went 18 matches without scoring against her Cascadia rival. Sinclair made up for lost time with a hat trick in a 4-1 win against the Reign at Providence Park on Wednesday.
“After the game I asked her how old she was,” OL Reign defender Steph Cox joked during a video conference call with media. Sinclair, 37, is the international goals record holder among men and women.
“I’ve known Sinc for a while,” Cox continued. “She looked really fresh and sharp today. Just clinical in front of goal. She was just on and her team was able to set her up and utilize the way that she runs off of them.”
Sinclair’s third goal was the type of score expected of a veteran like the Canadian. Facing the Reign backline, she collected a pass from teammate Lindsey Horan and gave a little tap outside the box to push the ball forward, chasing it down for a score in the 74th minute.
The play energized the Thorns (2-0-0) to continue to create shots as the Reign appeared deflated. Sinclair’s hat trick is her third in National Women’s Soccer League competitions.
Wednesday’s derby was postponed twice earlier in September because of the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest causing hazardous air quality in Portland. The sides faced each other once in the NWSL’s Challenge Cup in Utah last summer, finishing in a scoreless draw.
The rematch was played without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the Thorns did use artificial crowd noise and still released clouds of red smoke after goals as their Rose City Riveters supporter’s group would do in a traditional match.
“It’s been a difficult year; we miss our fans,” Sinclair said during a video conference call with media. The match is the last of 2020 at the stadium for the Thorns. “They had the red smoke every time we scored, which is a little taste of the Riveters, but obviously in a rivalry match, once the whistle blows, it’s game on. It doesn’t matter if there’s fans in the stands or not. Now that the game is over, it would’ve been nice to have the fans there for that one. It would’ve been a great party, I’m sure.”
Horan used a quick pace to weave through the Reign’s defense to create the opening scoring opportunity for Sinclair. The Thorns captain had a first touch just inside the box and booted a shot for the goal in the 40th minute.
The score was Sinclair’s first against the Reign since 2013.
Reign defender Taylor Smith was called for a foul against Thorns striker Simone Charley in the box in first-half stoppage time to make way for Sinclair’s second score. She took the penalty kick, stutter stepping before angling a right-footed shot past Reign keeper Michelle Betos.
The Reign made some defensive adjustments at halftime, but Portland midfielder Rocky Rodriguez’s surprise score in the 57th minute dismantled those strategies. Rodriguez whacked a chip-shot assist from Charley at goal on her first touch.
“That is a dream goal that you’d want to score not only in Providence Park but as a first goal with the Thorns,” said Rodriguez, a newcomer to the club.
Reign forward Bethany Balcer scored off a header in the 70th minute. Midfielder Shirley Cruz had the assist.
The Reign’s best scoring opportunity in the opening half was in the fifth minute when Cruz sent a deep pass into the box for Balcer to head into the goal. Thorns keeper Britt Eckerstrom jumped sideways to punch the ball over the net for a miraculous save.
Eckerstrom had seven saves in the match.
The Reign (0-1-1) continued Fall Series play without the bulk of its veterans. Players such as Lu Barnes, Jess Fishlock, Darian Jenkins, and Celia Jiménez Delgado are out on loan to clubs overseas. Megan Rapinoe opted out of competing in 2020 while Kelcie Hedge (knee) and Julia Ashley (back) are out due to injuries.
The absences permitted the Reign to play its younger players and get creative with their tactics. Reign coach Farid Benstiti also only made one change in the starting lineup that managed a 2-2 draw against Utah last week. He put Betos in goal for Casey Murphy.
The Reign, which is based in Tacoma, will continue play with another derby rematch against Portland at Cheney Stadium on Oct. 10. Fans will not be permitted to attend due to government restrictions regarding crowd sizes in efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“This evening was a difficult game for us after we conceded the two goals,” Benstiti said during a video conference call with media. “We wanted to come back, but today was too hard to come back because physically we were too down.”