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Match Preview: Portland Thorns vs. Seattle Reign FC

The NWSL’s last two unbeaten sides face off in their first meeting of the season, as the Portland Thorns host Seattle Reign FC.

Jeremiah Mitchell Braeback

The Portland Thorns (2-0-2. 8pts.) return home as they host league-leading Seattle Reign FC (5-0-0. 15pts.) in the first of three meeting between these Cascadia rivals.

The Thorns and Reign met four times last season, with Portland sweeping the season series and outscoring their rivals by a 7 to 2 margin, as well as recording two shutouts in the middle two matches.  When they last met, Megan Rapinoe put the Reign up early, only to have Christine Sinclair record a brace to close out the regular season.

Portland Thorns

The Thorns come home following a 1-1 draw to Western New York, which saw a 38 minute lightning delay stop play at the 8th minute and rain fall throughout the match.  The Flash scored first as Sonia Bermudez hit a perfectly placed free kick just inside the crossbar, while the Thorns countered 4 minutes later with a goal of their own, as Jessica McDonald pounced on a bobbled ball inside the 6 and tapped it in.

The Thorns’ defense continued to look strong, as Nikki Marshall and Emily Menges were able to contain the ever-dangerous Abby Wambach and have yet to allow a goal from the run of play.  Sarah Huffman made her first start of the season, as the Thorns needed a more defensive-minded outside back, and provided the assist on McDonald’s goal, while Nadine Angerer showed her ability to play the ball with her feet on a couple of occasions.

The midfield once again proved that the Thorns are treading water until the arrival of Vero Boquete and Tobin Heath, as the playmaking was once again uninspired.  For much of the second half the Thorns went to a long ball approach, which produced some dangerous chances, but also several missed connections and giveaways.  Allie Long and Christine Sinclair dropping back allowed the Thorns to create some movement through the midfield and generate a bit of an attack with McDonald up top, but the Thorns were unable to find a second goal, though Mana Shim had a late opportunity that would have been a certain goal if she hadn’t taken an extra touch.

The Thorns did a solid job of containing both Bermudez and Wambach and generally looking more dangerous in the second half, a trend that will need to continue against the Reign, who have only allowed two goals on the year.  In a rivalry match with the backing of the Rose City Riveters, there is no doubt that they will step it up against the Reign.

Seattle Reign FC

The Reign come into the match with a perfect 5-0-0 record, finding themselves behind in a match for a total of about two minutes on the season, as they responded immediately to an Ali Krieger goal in the 53rd minute with a Jess Fishlock goal in the 55th minute and Sydney Leroux gave the Reign the victory in the 76th minute.

Seattle has looked as dangerous as one would expect with the pieces they added this season.  Offseason addition Kim Little came out with a bang, scoring 2 goals in her first appearance and is currently tied with the league lead with 4 goals and parlayed her performance into being named the Player of the Month for April.  Fishlock has added 2 goals, while Leroux has added 1.

Defensively, the Reign have looked solid, as Hope Solo has only faced 31 shots, 13 on goal, allowing 2 goals against, both in matches against the Washington Spirit, though the defense shouldn’t have much to do with the offense have been in control as much as they have this season.

There are some questions facing the Reign though, as Megan Rapinoe has yet to make an appearance since the opener with an injury.  Nahomi Kawasumi will be with Japan until the end of the May while they compete in the AFC Asian Women’s Cup, Jess Fishlock netted a hat trick against Montenegro in Wales, and Leroux and Solo played a full 90 for the United States against Canada.  How the team handles the loss of Kawasumi, who has been one of their best playmakers and uses a jet-lagged Fishlock, both key to their midfield, can have a huge effect on this match,

Final Thoughts

The Rose City Riveters and Royal Guard (Reign Supporters Group) are going to bring it Saturday afternoon, which should help amp up players from both sides and bring an environment that rivals the Cascadia Cup, which should bring quality play from both sides.

Fatigue is a definite question though, especially for the Reign, who have several players coming in on short rest, while the team as a whole has played 4 games in 11 days, traveling to New Jersey and then Washington, D.C, for their matches last week.  While it hasn’t seemed to slow them down yet, fatigue and travel does eventually accumulate, even on younger players.  Sinclair played the full 90 against the United States on Thursday, while Long appeared for the final 22 minutes.

This match will definitely be the battle of the goalkeepers, as Angerer and Solo are two of the world’s best, with Angerer named as the best player in the world for 2013 and Solo is always in the conversation for best goalkeeper in the world.  If either side’s defense makes any mistakes, both players will have changes to show their classes and undoubtedly will put on a show for the fans.

Thorns Keys to the Match

Sustained Pressure – The Reign have controlled games by dominating possession and limiting the chances of the opponent, but showed weakness early in their last match when the Spirit were able to bring the ball in and get a few chances on goal, causing the defense to scramble and the ball falling to Krieger, who nailed it home.

Lockdown Defense – The Thorns did a great job of containing the threat provided by Bermudez and Wambach, but they will face a stiffer challenge in a Reign side that trots out Leroux, Little, Fishlock, and Bev Goebel.  While the Thorns have the speed to close these players on a break, it may fall to Angerer to shut the Reign out.

Midfield Linking – Linking play was practically non-existent for much of the match against the Flash, and this significantly impacts their attack, causing Sinclair to drop back into the midfield, while Long has moved up top into her position.  While Long has played great this season, the Thorns need one of world’s top strikers playing in front of goal and show her class, which she hasn’t had much chance to do this season.

Match Information

Portland Thorns (2-0-2, 8pts.) vs. Seattle Reign FC (5-0-0, 15pts.)

Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 4:00pm PDT

Providence Park – Portland, Oregon

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