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Match Preview: Portland Thorns FC vs Seattle Reign FC

With internationals back in the squad, Thorns face second consecutive home-and-home series against Cascadia rival

Christine Sinclair will be available for her first match since the World Cup Wednesday night.
Christine Sinclair will be available for her first match since the World Cup Wednesday night.
Jeremiah Mitchell Braeback

Last Meeting: 1-0 W

Overall Record against Seattle: 5-2-0

Returning internationals, a potential sellout, and a Cascadia rivalry match. All the makings of the biggest game of the year so far for Portland Thorns FC as they welcome Seattle Reign FC to Providence Park Wednesday night.

Portland (3-4-4, 13pts) comes into the match off a 1-0 loss on the road to Sky Blue FC on July 11, after beating the New Jersey-based club 2-1 at home on July 3. Seattle also lost their last game after they were shutout 3-0 by the Washington Spirit on July 18. Though the Reign (6-3-3, 21pts) lost just three games all season in 2014, one being the NWSL championship game against FC Kansas City, they haven’t shown the same dominance this time around. Seattle still currently sits in second place, just a point behind leaders Chicago Red Stars. The Reign’s strength has been more offensive than defensive, having scored 24 goals, which leads the league, but have conceded 12. The return of defender Stephanie Catley and addition of Clare Polkinghorne couldn’t have come at a better time.

On the offensive side, the Thorns have struggled the most. Allie Long and Mana Shim drove the offense early in the season, but too much was put on their shoulders to maintain it over the course of 10-plus games. Christine Sinclair and Jodie Taylor will hopefully continue their goalscoring form from the World Cup as Portland has scored just 13 goals so far, tied for second fewest in the league.

The biggest changes to this game will be in the squad selection. With the FIFA Women’s World Cup over, and the ensuing media thrall that followed the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory in Vancouver a few short weeks ago, the Thorns internationals are finally back in the Rose City. While Alex Morgan will miss the next four-to-six weeks after undergoing knee surgery late last week, the rest of the international contingent should be available for selection by head coach Paul Riley. Midfielder, and now World Cup winner, Tobin Heath, along with goalkeeper Nadine Angerer and Sinclair, spoke to the media last week about returning to Portland and their goals to help push the Thorns towards a second NWSL title. It shouldn’t be discounted however, that Seattle will also welcome back their international stars, highlighted by goalkeeper Hope Solo and midfielder Megan Rapinoe.

Seattle started to turn their dismal record against the Thorns around last season. In four meetings in 2013, Portland won them all. But in their first two meetings of 2014, the Reign outscored Portland 5-0 before Portland won that dramatic season finale in the Rose City 1-0 to clinch a playoff berth. With so many changes expected to both squads, form is less of a factor than normal. Excitement and motivation within the squads should be high welcoming friends back to the fold, but there’s no doubt that Portland has more work ahead of them to climb the table. But a high-intensity match against their regional rival is just the thing to get everyone focused on the job ahead.

Cascadia matches are always an especially big draw for attendance. Couple that with the returning internationals and the heroics of the squad (especially that diving header from Michelle Betos) is setting up Wednesday’s game for the Thorns first-ever Providence Park sellout and, of course, a new NWSL attendance record. Midfielder Sinead Farrelly certainly believes it, and judging from the Thorns 2014 regular-season finale against Seattle, it is certainly very possible.

Wednesday night marks Portland’s first of three games in seven days, and the first of the final nine games of the season. That’s 27 possible points to move the Thorns up the table and into one of the four playoff spots. Just nine points separates the squad from first place with important matches still to play against teams higher up the table. Wednesday night offers an opportunity for the Thorns to let the rest of the league know that their troubles from earlier in the season are behind them and they’re gunning for the top.