UPDATE: Allocated goalkeeper Hope Solo has been medically cleared, after missing the first part of the season with a wrist injury, and will be available to play.
Bear with me here. This actually has to do with Thorns v Reign:
You know that scene in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles when Steve Martin finally loses it? After an entire movie's worth of mishaps and bad luck, crappy turns of fate, and some depressing mishaps, Martin's character, Neal, has suffered more indignities than any man could bear, and none of it is his fault. He has been robbed, he has been stranded, and he has accidentally stuck his hands between a stranger's butt cheeks --and that's just the beginning. He has reached the tipping point of frustration, anger, and dismay. And then this happens:
Car rental agent to Neal: "How may I help you?"
Neal: "You can start by wiping that f---ing dumba-- smile off your rosy f---ing cheeks. And you can give me a f---ing automobile: a f---ing Datsun, a f---ing Toyota, a f---ing Mustang, a f---ing Buick! Four f---ing wheels and a seat!"
Car rental agent: "I really don't care for the way you're speaking to me."
Neal: "Well I really don't care for the way your company left me in the middle of f---ing nowhere with f---ing keys to a f---ing car that isn't f---ing there. And I really didn't care to f---ing walk down a f---ing highway and across a f---ing runway to get back here to have you smile in my f---ing face. I want a f---ing car, right f---ing now.
Car rental agent: May I see your rental agreement?"
Neal: "I threw it away."
Car rental agent: "Oh, boy."
Neal: "Oh boy what?"
Car rental agent: "You're f---ed!"
You kind of get the feeling the Seattle Reign are the Neal of the NWSL.
In the face of a league whose allocated players have scored a majority of the goals and dominated play, the Reign's list of allocated US players available to suit up at the season's start totaled zero. Then there was the strange Keelin Winters trade. Granted, the strong midfielder has been an asset to a team that otherwise has scrambled chaotically, but in enacting the trade, Seattle mortgaged its future. The effect highlighted the sometimes bizarre character of this team.
The Reign played hard the first few games of the season --including a 2-1 loss at Jeld-Wen in a game the Thorns dominated-but lately have appeared lackluster and fireless. Then the injuries hit again: Winters sprained her ankle (she will still most likely play on Sunday); starting defenders Elli Reed and Kate Deines also suffered ankle injuries and are expected to miss several weeks. Let's not forget defender Jenny's Ruiz's red card, which she earned in last week's 3-0 loss to Sky Blue FC, which will prevent her from playing against the Thorns this weekend.
The arduous journey so far has earned the Reign an unflattering 0-6-1 record, with a grand total of one point; the team has a stranglehold on last place in the division.
It has all been enough to push Reign coach Laura Harvey to the brink. A few weeks ago after a poorly contested 2-0 loss to Sky Blue, Harvey unleashed an angry tirade that resembled Neal's in its feverishness (minus the f-bombs, although they were implied). Witness Dan Lauletta's report from Equalizer Soccer:
"We were nowhere near good enough in the first half," Harvey said. Asked to expand she said, "Everything. We weren't good enough in possession. We weren't good enough defensively. We looked completely (dis)organized. We looked like we haven't trained. We did pretty much the exact opposite of what we prepared for. We just looked like a team that had never played together before."...Asked if there were any positives to take from the match Harvey replied, "No."
This is the team the Portland Thorns face in Seattle on Saturday. The anger and frustration is palpable. And that makes them a dangerous team.
This is a derby match, after all, and the Reign have nothing to lose. The Thorns, meantime, sit in second place in the NWSL, nudge slightly out of first by Sky Blue only by virtue of a head-to-head tie-breaker.
This will be the Thorns' fourth match in two weeks and the team's fifth road game of a total of eight. Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone has been forced to use much of the team's training time to rest and regenerate players, leaving little room for actual training. As the past few games have shown, the Thorns need as much practice time as possible, considering the miscommunication and mistiming that has plagued the attack.
Still, the match is Portland's to lose. Consider the disparity: Portland is tied for second in the league with shots (82) and shots on goal (46), and first in goals against (.57). Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair are fourth and seventh in goals scored, respectively, while Seattle doesn't even have anyone on that board. Portland is healthy-with only Emilee O'Neil out due to right calf tightness-while Seattle's team looks like a bunch of battered Civil War infantry limping back from the battlefield. Portland's coach has the pleasurable problem of trying to figure out how to best set up the two best forwards in the world; Seattle's coach has the extreme displeasure of trying to figure out how to get anyone to get the ball in the net.
Tactically, it's tough to know where this leaves us. Don't' expect the Thorns to deviate too much from a formula that has led them to success so far. The Reign, meantime, switched to a 3-4-3 in last week's game against Sky Blue. Harvey also switched goalkeeper Michelle Betos out for Haley Kopmeyer.
Obviously, it didn't do much good.
Portland still needs to keep an eye out for Seattle midfielder Christine Nairn, who leads the team with one goal and one assist, but with a defense this debilitated, Seattle should be easy pickin's.