This Sunday, the Portland Thorns will travel to take on the Seattle Reign in the newest iteration of the heated Cascadia rivalry.

Since the NWSL was founded in 2013, the Cascadia rivalry has been one of the league’s most contentious matchups.

The two teams, based in the two major cities of the Pacific Northwest, hold long-standing grudges.

Veteran player Jess Fishlock, who has been with the Reign since its founding, described the rivalry simply: “We just hate Portland.”

Portland, fourth in the table and with multiple championship wins under their belt, would normally be the easy favourite to win on Sunday.

But they have a major disadvantage—their star striker, Sophia Smith, is suspended.

Smith received two yellow cards in last week’s game against the North Carolina Courage.

Both were for time wasting, with the second one awarded after she had already left the field.

When the ball bounced out of bounds in the 101st minute, Smith jokingly decided to roll the ball underneath the bench to keep it away from her opponents, but was spotted by the referee.

This simple action may end up costing her team.

Smith, a star player for both the Thorns and the USWNT, is the current leader in the league’s Golden Boot race with nine goals so far this season.

In the season’s first Cascadia Rivalry in May, Smith was involved in all four of Portland’s goals, scoring one and notching three assists, the team winning 4-0. 

Embed from Getty Images

Moreover, Portland may also be without Sam Coffey, who came off last week in the 36th minute and reappeared wearing a boot.

As the team’s defensive midfielder, Coffey is essential to the Thorns’ system, distributing the ball and maintaining order on the field.

The team has not issued an update on Coffey’s status.

Without the two national team stars, the Reign may be facing an entirely different team.

However, the Seattle Reign have not shown much promise this year.

Usually a playoff team, they are now languishing 13th on the table, just second from last. 

Amidst the recent sale of their club to the Seattle Sounders and the Carlyle Group, the 2022 Shield winners had no major acquisitions in the offseason except for former Chelsea midfielder Ji So-yun.

They also lost key players to retirement and free agency, including Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle, and Emily Sonnett.

Now, forwards Jordyn Huitema and Bethany Balcer will have to face down Portland’s staunch defence to secure a victory over their rivals.

In her first start after returning from injury, Huitema scored a brace in last week’s game against Kansas City, although the team ended up losing 5-2.

Embed from Getty Images

Whichever side of the Cascadia rivalry wins, the match is sure to be an exciting one.

The game will air Sunday 16 June at 4pm EDT, and US viewers can watch on CBS/Paramount+.

It will be available for international viewers on streaming service NWSL Plus.

Featured image courtesy of SounderBruce via Wikimedia Commons. No changes were made to this image. License details found here.