PNW Experience

"This is the start": PNW Experience Doubleheader is a showcase for soccer and culture in our region

One of the defining characteristics of the soccer rivalry between Seattle and Portland has always been its authenticity.

The mutual distaste that the clubs and cities have for one another is very much real, fostered over a long and storied history that dates back decades. That history is part of why derby matchups between the sides are widely considered the best in North America, with levels of intensity and gameday atmospheres that rival the top in the world.

But even taking all of that into account, August 29, 2021 is set to be a special day in the scope of that history, featuring a wrinkle that we’ve never seen before: A doubleheader in which the NWSL’s OL Reign will take on the Portland Thorns at Lumen Field directly before the Seattle Sounders take on the Portland Timbers (7:30 p.m. PT; ESPN, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS) in MLS action as part of the single-ticketed event at Lumen Field.

The vision is grand to be sure: The soccer games are going to be just a part of it, with the area surrounding the stadium set to feature beer gardens, a food truck and live music. It’s all the culmination of an event that has been years in the making but had yet to come to fruition until now.

“My initial reaction was: About time!” OL Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock said at a Lumen Field press conference previewing the event alongside teammate Lauren Barnes and Sounders players Kelyn Rowe and Brad Smith. “But obviously when you take a step back and look at the whole situation and what it means to actually get this done and over the line, I know it’s not as simple as we think it is.”

According to Sounders Senior Vice President of Business Operations & Marketing and former player Taylor Graham, the idea for a doubleheader of some kind has been in the works for over two years, with the appetite for something like it stretching back even further than that.

“The foundation was in place,” Graham said. “Obviously a ton has changed in the course of action, but the appetite has always been there, and the relationships have always been there. Honestly with the break with the pandemic, with 2021 being an Olympic year and a return to stadiums for the first time in a long time, actually the opportunity grew and became a bigger opportunity.

“So, the starting point was one of absolute appetite and how you thread the needle, what’s the right date, how do you execute and how do you combine multiple ongoing things into a mega-compelling sporting event for the region.”

PNW Experience: Sounders and Reign Photoshoot
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The overarching goal, Graham said, is to create an event that not only captures the city’s love for the sport, but is also all-inclusive.

That’s where the live music aspect comes in as part of the club’s season-long tribute to Seattle icon Jimi Hendrix, who was the inspiration behind the Sounders’ secondary kits that were launched for the 2021 season.

“When we launched this, we knew there was going to be the opportunity to connect with different Seattleites and beyond where soccer maybe wasn’t the starting point,” Graham said. “It was Seattle or it was music.”

Still, the games are what’s at the heart of it all, and there’s no better opposition for the occasion than Portland, which will always remain both clubs’ chief rivals, with regional bragging rights squarely on the line every time they face off on the field.

The doubleheader can only serve to enhance that, something Rowe (a Seattle native) said all the teams involved will be acutely aware of when the matches get underway.

“We obviously know this rivalry is huge on both ends, for both teams,” Rowe said. “For me, especially, coming from Seattle I know it’s not just in sports. It’s in where you live, it’s Seattle vs. Portland, there is that bit of bitterness and that brotherly-sisterly fight over who’s better. I’m from Seattle, so obviously you know my take on that.”

The aftermath remains to be seen, but both Fishlock and Rowe agreed that the hope is that the event will be the first of many.

Relations between OL Reign and Sounders have always been strong between the players and organizations alike, but should the demand prove to be sustainable, as seems likely, Fishlock said she sees no reason why the teams shouldn’t be playing more doubleheaders at Lumen in the future.

“This is the start. I think hopefully over the years it'll be more and more and more and better and better and better and the fan bases will somehow be able to merge, which will be just fantastic,” Fishlock said. 

Years from now, August 29, 2021 might well be looked at as the dawn of a new era, where fusion events like this are indeed a regular occurrence.

With Seattle in contention to serve as a host city when the World Cup comes to the United States, Mexico and Canada in 2026, Graham said he feels confident that the event can act to enhance the city’s case.

“I don’t think this rivalry needs any more energy,” Graham said. “In fact, this needs new villains and new heroes and new moments, and this is another moment in this almost 50-year rivalry dating back to 1975. I think it might be a new chapter in the book, a new opportunity and how to frame what we think is the best rivalry in Major League Soccer, in North American soccer, in global football for that matter.

“This event will showcase why FIFA has to be in Seattle for the World Cup in 2026 as part of the United Bid, because it will showcase the passion of this community for something bigger than sport. It will show the passion of the sports community and the soccer community specifically and the intersection between sport and culture and the values that this city, this state and this region are based in.”

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