Finally given a stadium befitting of its stature, OL Reign showed out.
Megan Rapinoe scored a brace to lead The Bold to a 2-1 win against Portland Thorns FC on Sunday at Lumen Field. As the club original joined in what looked like a delirious on-field party, Rapinoe said later it was hard not to be irritated.
“It’s hard, honestly, to not be a little bittersweet,” said Rapinoe, who has been with the Reign since it was established in 2012. “For this to be only the first time that we get to play in a big stadium like this, I just think of what could’ve been.
“Hopefully this is a sign of things going forward. We deserve to play in a bigger stadium. We deserve to play in this stadium.”
The Cascadia derby has always featured the world’s best in women’s soccer. Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist, World Cup champion and 2019 FIFA Player of the Year. Among Portland’s stars is Christine Sinclair, who helped lead Canada to Olympic gold in Tokyo earlier this month and is the globe’s all-time leading scorer for men’s and women’s soccer.
But when the derby travels north to play in Washington, it was either in dilapidated Memorial Stadium that doesn’t have safe drinking water or Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, a facility built for minor-league baseball.
That changed Sunday, even if only for one picturesque late-summer afternoon at NFL-sized Lumen Field.
The derby was a doubleheader with Sounders FC. Billed as the “Pacific Northwest Experience,” it was a first for the clubs on the Sounders’ home turf. Originally the Reign was set to host the Thorns on Sunday at Cheney, the Bold’s home field since relocating from Memorial in 2019.
One ticket provided access to both men’s and women’s matches and multiple, in-stadium concerts that were tributes to Seattle musical icon Jimi Hendrix.
A reported 27,248 people showed up for the opening match, which edged NWSL attendance records. Portland held the previous mark when it drew 25,218 for a June 2019 game in expanded Providence Park. The largest crowd to witness a Reign match before Sunday was 7,479 at Cheney in July 2019.
Rapinoe opened the scoring in the 16th minute. Teammate Jess Fishlock set up the goal with a through ball that Rapinoe collected outside the box. The striker juked her defender as she shifted the ball to her right foot, sending the shot to the left side of goal.
As Rapinoe playfully gestured “for me?” to the throng of supporters wearing metallic gold crowns in The Brougham End of the stadium, Reign teammate Eugenie Le Sommer jumped on Rapinoe’s back in celebration.
“As soon as we got that first goal, we used (the crowd) as momentum to kind of control the rest of the game,” said Fishlock, a club original. “We knew today was going to be a big game, not just because of the atmosphere, but to get three points would be huge for us. I can’t really say more than this group was fantastic and I love them.”
Le Sommer created Rapinoe’s brace when Portland defender Natalia Kuikka tried to intercept a pass and instead was called for a handball.
Rapinoe used her signature stutter step to lure Thorns keeper Bella Bixby off her line before smashing the ball into the back of the net in the 40th minute.
Portland (10-4-2) dominated possession in the opening half at 64%. But the Thorns didn’t score until first-half stoppage time.
Angela Salem was in the right spot at the top of the box to volley a poor clearance back at goal. The play was set up on a Kuikka free kick.
“This league is so relentless and so unforgiving, you saw it with that goal,” OL Reign coach Laura Harvey said. “We shouldn’t have been going into halftime conceding, in my opinion, at that point. They punished us just on that one mistake.
“But it’s maybe a sign of our season. In the early part of the season that (Portland) goal could’ve been a catalyst for us not winning at all. Whereas (Sunday), it was a catalyst for us to say, ‘We’re not going to let that happen again’ and we’re going to come out of this game with three points.”
The sides had numerous near-chances in the second half, but nothing to alter the result. With the win, the Reign inched up to third in the NWSL standings and also ended Portland’s 10-match unbeaten streak.
Sunday was the beginning of a tough stretch for the Reign (8-7-1). The team heads on the road to play the Houston Dash (Wednesday) and Racing Louisville FC (Saturday).
“I want them to enjoy this. I want them to take it all in because who knows when it could happen again,” Harvey said of playing at Lumen Field. “They deserve that. But (Monday) morning we’re going to be on a flight to Houston and the next important game is that.”