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Thorns Shut Down Reign, Capture Playoff Spot

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Alex Morgan's 68th minute goal puts the Thorns through to a meeting with FC Kansas City next Saturday, as the downed the Reign 1-0.

Stacey Neve - Stumptown Footy

The Portland Thorns (10-8-6, 36pts) came into the match with their backs against the wall.

Win, and they would set up a rematch of last season's semifinal with FC Kansas City.

Lose or draw, and their season was over.

Luckily for the 17,109 in attendance, the Thorns played perhaps their best and most complete match of the season.

From the start, the Thorns looked to be greatly inspired side, coming out strong and looking to press the Seattle Reign (16-2-6, 54pts), with Vero Boquete, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, and Christine Sinclair all having early chances.

"We had to win today and I think from the first minute, we played amazing. I think it was our best game of the whole season," goalkeeper Nadine Angerer said following the match.  "We worked so hard together and our system was working today. I think we're much stronger with two defensive midfielders. It makes it so we have a good connection between the defense and the midfield. It was totally great teamwork today."

While Reign did have their chances, registering 7 shots (3 on goal), the Thorns would control the match throughout the first half, as their defense stood strong against the league's top offense, neutralizing the midfield tandem of Naho Kawasumi and Kim Little, making key stops when they needed to.

"Some of it's the way they played. Some of it's what happened in front of them. I thought we were a little hotter in front picking up second balls, picking up first balls, which we haven't done enough of to help them out," replied Paul Riley when asked about the defense.  "It was a whole defensive performance today, not just the back four. Certainly Amber and Allie did their share of work. There were a lot of last ditch tackles that maybe we wouldn't have seen a month ago. I don't know. We talked about clean sheets a lot. Before the game I talked to the TV people, I said ‘We've got to keep the game close. This can't be a game that's a slugfest.'"

The match did turn into a slugfest, at times, especially with Seattle clearly frustrated by the Thorns' attacking straight at the heart of the Reign and the sudden return to form of their defensive line, breaking up passes and shots, while Angerer made some spectacular saves, especially during a late push from the Reign.

Morgan got the breakthrough goal in the 68th minute off a snap header just inside the near post off a corner kick served in by Allie Long, that the defender partially blocked, but it hit the inside of the post and went in, giving the Thorns the only goal they would need.

"Well initially it hit the near post defender, so I wasn't sure it went it. When I saw it finally bounce completely over the line, I was just so excited because it's been a long time since I've gotten a goal, but just the fact that we'd had so many shots, the game was more in our favor. I thought that we'd started to get complacent a little and let Seattle play a little. So I think the goal was at the right time to put us up and make sure that we held onto that lead," Morgan said of her goal.  "As a forward, obviously scoring always helps with confidence. It's been a while since I've scored. The minutes rack up and as much as you don't want to think about it, sometimes it is sitting in the back of your mind. I think that I was very unlucky in the first half. Sometimes it's just not going my way. So I'm glad that I got the goal and it was in an important game like this because we needed the win. There was no other choice. So it definitely helps me moving forward into the playoffs."

The Reign were not finished with a late push.  As they have to often this year, they looked to steal the match late, subbing on Bev Goebel and Dani Foxhoven as they made their late push, but this time the Thorns held strong, keeping the Reign not only off the score sheet, but also handed them just their second loss of the season, and just the third time they'd been shut out all year.

"It's a massive push. I don't know how many people were here today, but it was again amazing. These fans deserve everything. Let's hope, who knows, if we win in Kansas and Seattle lose, we can give them what they deserve: a final championship here in Portland. This city deserves it. I hope they all enjoyed today. We beat Seattle. This is extra motivation and now we have to continue together and fight until the end," Vero said afterward.  "Play like today. It was hard. We won 1-0 and it was really hard. They couldn't score. It was a great game. They have great players and I think that we showed that if we play together, if we run together, if we really focus we can win this title. I think that Seattle knows. I think Kansas City knows and I think that Washington knows. Let's see if we can continue on this line and we can keep fighting every practice. If we practice well, we're going to play better."

Now the Thorns' sights turn to a familiar foe: FC Kansas City in a rematch of last season's semifinal.