When NWSL first began, the league and many fans conceived of a Cascadia rivalry like that in MLS between the Portland Thorns and the Seattle Reign. It hasn't really materialized, but another rivalry is starting to take shape in the form of the Reign vs. FC Kansas City.
The two sides met in 2014 at Starfire Stadium in Seattle to contest the NWSL championship, ending 2-1 in favor of FCKC. In that moment you could reasonably guess that Seattle swore revenge—and here they are with a shot at the team that derailed their triumphant redemption arc. After the Reign's disastrous 2013 season, wouldn't that have been something for them to win it all 2014. It was not to be.
Meanwhile, FC Kansas City has never not made the playoffs. They won it all last year with two Amy Rodriguez goals and look on track to repeat this year, or at least to repeat the Rodriguez goals part. This is also Lauren Holiday's last club game ever, as she announced her retirement from soccer after the World Cup, and her teammates have professed how much it would mean to send her off in style.
So there are plenty of emotional as well as professional stakes at hand when these teams meet on Thursday in Portland.
For Seattle, their midfield will be critical. Jess Fishlock, Kim Little, and Keelin Winters form the nucleus of the Reign. Andonovski said in a press call before the final that his strategy starts with containing the Reign's midfield. That's certainly not the end of it, though. There's also their back line, which is capable of some decent flank play and long distribution forward, and the threat of a healthy Beverly Yanez. Yanez is probably the best forward in NWSL not on the national team and Becky Sauerbrunn and Amy LePeilbet will have to stay sharp to limit her opportunities.
As for Sauerbrunn and LePeilbet, they are the start of FCKC's strong, steady spine (and the center of a great defensive line). It traces up to Jen Buczkowski and Holiday, orchestrating everything from midfield, to Amy Rodriguez, who has shown that she and Holiday share an instinctive connection. FCKC has a number of ways to score, but none quite like a deceptively simple through ball from Holiday to find Rodriguez on a slashing run. If Seattle clogs up the middle lanes, there's always Heather O'Reilly available for service from wide.
If the teams are gridlocked on the field, the difference may come down to a test of their goalkeepers. Harvey is sure to start Hope Solo in this, the most important game of their season, though Haley Kopmeyer has been wily and resourceful for the Reign during Solo's absence. Nicole Barnhart is a steady presence for FCKC, but if pressured close in the box (assuming that Becky Sauerbrunn has somehow let someone get close enough to do so) may give up a goal or two.
The Reign and Kansas City are two of the more entertaining teams to watch in NWSL and when put together on the same field will no doubt play out an intense, enjoyable struggle. Even if you're not a supporter of either team, the final promises to be one of the most watchable games of the year.