Spoiler was the best OL Reign could do against their Cascadia rival.
The club traveled to Providence Park with the opportunity to usurp the Portland Thorns FC for first in National Women’s Soccer League standings and take control of the league’s Supporters’ Shield race with the perk of winning a sixth straight derby.
But as whiffed opportunities mounted, the Reign could only use a questionable penalty to level the match, leaving with a 1-1 draw against Portland on Wednesday. The Thorns (12-6-4) remain atop the table by one point against the Reign (12-7-4). The Bold did prevent their rivals from being able to secure one of the top two seeds for the new six-team playoff.
Yet, instead of salivating at ruining Portland’s plans, players for both sides gave each other hugs and asked sincere questions about their well-being.
Wednesday’s match was rescheduled from earlier this month due to the fallout after The Athletic published allegations of sexual coercion and verbal abuse by former Thorns and North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.
Players first reported Riley in 2015 while with the Thorns. His firing from the Courage in September was one of five people in leadership positions to either be fired or asked to resign this season — including former Reign coach Farid Benstiti — due to allegations of misconduct. The NWSL also accepted the resignations for league commissioner Lisa Baird and general counsel Lisa Levine for their mishandling of the allegations.
“I’m just astonished, to be honest, that we’ve had to take all of this on and still come out and play,” Reign forward Megan Rapinoe said. “We took the game off when the article broke and we had to replay the game, so we just smashed it in the midweek.
“It kind of all ends up falling on the players anyway. Because it’s not only happening to us, but we’re the ones that have to stick up for ourselves, we’re the ones that have to kind of shoulder the burden and we’re the ones that have to go out and play. I just think the resilience around the league from all the players has been humbling and exceptional. I’m just so proud to be a part of this.”
Rapinoe subbed into the match in the 62nd minute, her first appearance since the Reign defeated Portland in August at Lumen Field due to a hamstring injury. The striker had a header attempt miss in the 64th minute, but she got on the board in the 86th minute.
Portland was called for a handball in the box. Replays looked as if the contact was unavoidable, but it sent Rapinoe to the spot for the equalizer. She easily punched the ball into the net, marking her ninth strike against Portland.
Thorns forward Morgan Weaver scored the opening goal in the third minute. The right-footed shot center of goal appeared to catch the Reign off-guard.
The players decided to join together in solidarity in the first minute to recognize the six years it took NWSL leadership to take action against Riley. Once demonstration finished, the Thorns pounced.
“The thought behind when we did the stoppage was to be less disruptive to the game,” Rapinoe said. “Then they threw the ball back to us and then pressed that, so I guess that really didn’t solve that. That was pretty disruptive, to be honest.”
The NWSL Players Association published eight demands to form a better league and gave officials until Wednesday to respond to some of their requests. In a joint statement released on Twitter, the sides said, in part, they have “made progress over the past week on issues concerning player safety, transparency, and moving the league forward in a new direction.”
One change made at the NWSLPA’s request was moving the championship match to Louisville from Portland. The league was criticized for originally scheduling the game to be played at 9 a.m. PST in order to air on CBS at noon. The broadcast will remain the same and the players will have a reasonable lead-in to a title match.
NWSL’s top two teams receive a first-round bye and will host their opener when the postseason begins in November. The Reign has two opportunities left to clinch one of the coveted spots, beginning with a match against the third-place Washington Spirit on Saturday at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
NOTE: Four Reign players were called up this week for international duty. The FIFA break begins next week with Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle set to join the U.S. women’s national team for a pair of friendly matches.
Quinn will join the Canadian women’s national team for a two-game celebration tour. The midfielder helped Canada win their first Olympic gold medal in soccer at the delayed Tokyo Games last summer.
Reign midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan was called up by the German women’s national team. Germany is playing two World Cup qualifying matches.