Portland, Oregon — They say you can’t go home again.
But this Saturday, that’s exactly what Allie Long, the former Portland Thorns FC mainstay, did when she returned to Providence Park for the first time since joining Seattle Reign FC.
Long, the Thorns’ second all-time leading scorer, played over 100 games with Portland, starting in the NWSL’s inaugural 2013 season. She scored the game-winner in a 2013 semifinal that sent the team on to face Western New York in the championship, which they won — an accomplishment she’d reprise four years later when the Thorns won a second championship against the North Carolina Courage. It was Long’s time in Portland that allowed her to break onto the U.S. women’s national team: after being left off the World Cup roster in 2015, Long spent the NWSL season making an emphatic case for herself as an international-quality player, tallying 10 goals and four assists for the Thorns.
After all that, she shocked observers in making a move to Portland’s longtime rival, the Seattle Reign, as part of a major three-way trade that brought the rights to Caitlin Foord — previously held by Sky Blue FC — to the Thorns. “When I walked off the field [in Portland] for the last time,” she said before Saturday’s game, “I could hold my head up high and be really proud and happy in the way that I left. I poured everything that I physically could into the organization and the club and I left it there.”
The Thorns-Reign rivalry — which has its roots in a soccer rivalry between the two cities that predates the NWSL — is hotly contested. The all-time series is close; going into Saturday’s game, the Thorns had the slight edge, with seven wins, six losses and three draws. As much as wins and losses, though, this rivalry is about bragging rights, smack-talk and drama.
Any drama has heroes and villains; for the Thorns faithful, the part of antagonist has often been played by Jess Fishlock, with her aggressive tackling and outsize presence in the central midfield. Seattle fans, for five years, fixed their animosity on Long.
“Coming [to Seattle],” she said, “I was definitely unsure how people would take it. When I went to the season ticket holder event, I asked them if we could start over! They all laughed, but [the rivalry] is definitely real.”
On the field, Long has started over, making a strong start in Seattle in the central midfield role she plays alongside Japanese international Rumi Utsugi. “The team has been awesome, and Vlatko [Andonovski] and the coaching staff,” she said. “It makes it really easy when the level is so high and everyone has such a good soccer IQ. It’s been really fun.” Long notched her first goal for the Reign last weekend in Orlando, getting loose in the box on a free kick to send a well-placed half-volley inside the far post.
Heading into the weekend, Long said she was excited, both for the game itself and to reunite with old friends. “The five years I was there, I really tried hard to develop relationships with the fans,” she said. “There are kids that came when they were one or two and their parents had to hold them, and now they’re six or seven. … It’s really cool to see that. I’m so excited to be back and see familiar faces, and it’s going to be a great game.”
The match, a wild back-and-forth affair, more than lived up to the rivalry hype. Seattle opened the scoring late in the first half with a point-blank header by Beverly Yanez off a Nahomi Kawasumi corner kick. Their one-goal lead held until the 60th minute, when a corner kick by Tobin Heath ricocheted off Long and fell to Portland defender Emily Sonnett, who managed to flick the ball backwards past keeper Michelle Betos.
From there, the action didn’t let up for a second, with more goals coming courtesy of Jodie Taylor, Lindsey Horan and Utsugi. Providence Park erupted in boos when Fishlock subbed off late in the second half, which the Reign midfielder seemed to relish, giving the stadium a round of applause as she left the field. When the dust settled, the score was 3-2 in Seattle’s favor, marking their third road victory in rivalry history, and leveling the all-time head-to-head.
A hard-fought win on the road against a rival usually brings elation, but for Long, Saturday was more complicated. “When I got here, I saw people had my jersey, and they were hanging up my scarf,” she said after the game. “I just felt so thankful that I had the time that I did here. … It was overwhelming how much love I felt, and I was so grateful to them.”
Although fans greeted her with a loud cheer as Seattle’s lineup was announced, once the game kicked off, the crowd didn’t forget whose side she was on. With any homecoming, the home you return to isn’t quite the one you left behind. In Portland, the raucous atmosphere hadn’t changed, but Long, wearing the enemy’s black kit, was on the other side — a perspective she’s embracing.
“I love it,” she said. “This is the environment that brings out the best in players. … Whether I’m on the Thorns or the Reign, this environment is the best place to play, and you want that as a player. Even though they’re cheering for them, you still feel it.”