Before OL Reign could settle into the NWSL’s 2021 Challenge Cup tournament, or even Wednesday’s match, the Portland Thorns FC were starting to celebrate a title.
With quick goals to open both halves, the Thorns collected a 2-0 victory at Providence Park and the tournament’s Western Division title.
The midweek match was the Reign’s second overall in the tournament. Portland (3-0-0) began play a week earlier — their three consecutive wins totaling enough points to mathematically top the five-team division. Portland will play the Eastern Division winner in a Challenge Cup championship game on May 8 at a site to be determined.
“We lost our way a little bit through the game,” Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock said. “We’re trying to figure ourselves out and it’s a process, of course. We’ve got to really try to figure ourselves out a little bit faster, right now or else the season is going to be a long season for us.”
NWSL will begin a traditional regular-season on May 15. But the Reign (0-1-1) still has two more Challenge Cup matches. They host the Chicago Red Stars on Tuesday at Cheney Stadium.
“We must play better with the ball,” coach Farid Benstiti said. “We have two games and the target is to play very well for two games.”
Reign defender Amber Brooks was called for a foul that set up a free kick for Portland’s opening goal. Thorns midfielder Lindsey Horan lobbed the ball over the wall of defense and past Reign keeper Karen Bardsley’s reach for the score in the 17th minute.
Portland’s second goal was off a deflection in the 46th minute. Forward Simone Charley knocked the ball in with her right foot. Charley had a team-high six shots on goal against the Reign, the Thorns out-shooting their rival 29-10 overall.
Thorns keeper Adrianna Franch had three saves.
“Portland looks a little bit more cohesive,” Fishlock said. “We’ve had a lot of girls missing and it was a long preseason. We’re probably just not as cohesive as Portland are right now, which is totally fine. I’m not worried about it at all. It was a good game for us to see how far we’ve got to grow and we’ve got to grow a little bit now. I have faith that we will.”
The Reign lost 2-1 in their last meeting of the derby in October 2020. The Bold also had to witness the Thorns celebrate, then on the Reign’s turf. The match was part of a four-game NWSL Fall Series where the team with the most points won a $25,000 grant to donate. The Thorns picked a local business partner, Mimi’s Fresh Tees.
The Bold had five players called up for international duty for FIFA’s April window. Bardsley (England) and forward Nicole Momiki (Japan) returned last week. Megan Rapinoe (U.S.), Quinn (Canada), and Fishlock (Wales) returned to NWSL play Wednesday.
For Rapinoe, the match was her first since 2019. She opted out of all play once the pandemic hit in March 2020. Coach Benstiti said the USWNT limited Rapinoe’s time to 30 minutes, so she didn’t start.
Benstiti did change his starting lineup. He slotted forward Tziarra King at left wing and played Quinn at left fullback.
Allie Long missed a second match. She was a late scratch against Houston last week due to a leg injury suffered during warm-ups.
“Hopefully we’ll get into more of a groove in our third and fourth game,” Reign midfielder Sofia Huerta said.