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Match Preview: Thorns vs Reign

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Photo credit: Jan Landis, The Asian Reporter

Portland wraps up their three-game week this Saturday with a road trip to Seattle. Hopefully, the Thorns’ decisive home win on Wednesday will give them the confidence to keep playing an attacking game, which they’ll need in taking on a scrappy, quick-scoring Seattle Reign side.

Projected starting XI

I don’t expect a repeat of the Dagny-at-right-back experiment we saw on Wednesday, for reasons to be enumerated below. That means we’ll see AD Franch in goal, behind Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett, and Celeste Boureille. Allie Long and Amandine Henry will continue as dual defensive midfielders in the 4-2-3-1. There are some options in the midfield; my money would be on Ashleigh Sykes to get the start on the left, with Lindsey Horan as the central attacking mid, Hayley Raso on the right, and Christine Sinclair as the lone striker. It’s also possible Shim could get another start, with Sykes available for some off-the-bench speed.

Nadia Nadim is still out with a groin pull, according to Mark Parsons. After that, she leaves to train with Denmark in preparation for the Euros.

Reprising Wednesday

After two painful losses, the Thorns came roaring back Wednesday against Kansas City. Raso had the best game of her NWSL career, and notched her first goal. A supremely pissed-off Sinc made a forceful return to form. Offensively, it was the best performance of the season. Defensively, the Thorns looked stable, for the most part, but Kansas City is also a poor attacking team.

The Reign are not a poor attacking team. The major concern heading to Seattle remains sloppy giveaways, especially in the defensive third. That the frequency of these uh-ohs has been drastically cut down since the early part of the season doesn’t lessen their danger; that was how Sky Blue burned them repeatedly two weeks ago, and it was a bad touch by Long in the central midfield that Francisca Ordega capitalized on in Washington.

The last three games have shown us two very different Portlands: one slow-moving, painfully conservative, and vulnerable to fast counterattacks, the other an organized, efficient attacking unit. Against high-pressing Seattle, the Thorns need to push for goals early and often. Players like Megan Rapinoe and Jess Fishlock will make a meal of the kind of lackadaisical horizontal passing they fell into against Sky Blue and Washington.

Scouting Seattle

I expect Laura Harvey to do little bit of shuffling from the lineup she fielded Wednesday against Chicago. In a fun coincidence, on the same night Dagny played at right back in Portland, Harvey deployed forward Merritt Mathias at right back. However, Lauren Barnes should return to the back line following a suspension for a bad foul on Shea Groom last weekend, so I expect we’ll see Carson Pickett, Barnes, Kristen McNabb, and Rebecca Stott on defense, backed up by Haley Kopmeyer in goal.

Harvey has used both a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-3 in recent games. Against Portland, I think she’s likely to play the more aggressive 4-3-3, with Jess Fishlock, Christine Nairn, and Lindsay Elston in the midfield, and an attacking trio of Megan Rapinoe, Mathias, and Nahomi Kawasumi.

Seattle managed a crap win at home on Wednesday, thanks to two penalties: one legitimate, called on a handball in the box, the other a fairly egregious call on Casey Short for a supposed foul against Rapinoe.

There were, though, plenty of moments where the Reign looked dangerous. Seattle can be downright terrifying in transition, which, as we know all too well, has been Portland’s Achilles’ heel in the past. Their wingers—Rapinoe and Kawasumi—both rank among the best wide players in the league, if not the world. They’re quick, technical players who both pose a threat from either side, and can beat you on the dribble, shooting from distance, or by placing a pinpoint cross in the box.

In short, Portland’s fullbacks will need to actually defend, instead of pushing forward and relying on Long or Henry to fall back. I expect Boureille to get the start at right back instead of Dagny for this exact reason: on Wednesday, Dagny was valuable in contributing to the attack, making runs from a deep position, but showed less comfort actually defending. Similarly, Kling’s strength is as an attacking fullback, but if she pushes high, she’s going to leave a gaping hole for Naho to rip through in transition.

Closing thoughts

As usual, expect this game to get physical. Also expect the ball to bounce around on the junk turf at Memorial like a racquetball (as long as I’m complaining about it, consider the following: there were seven handballs in Seattle on Wednesday. Three of those, including the one that led to the free kick that led to the penalty that led to Seattle’s first goal, happened when the ball bounced off the turf into a player’s hand. Would the same thing have happened on a different playing surface? Maybe, maybe not. But when it’s apparent that even the Reign players, who train on that field every week, often can’t judge where the ball is going to end up, there’s a problem.)

Oh, and uh, one more thing:

Match Information

Watch it on: go90 (US), NWSLsoccer.com (international)

When: Saturday, July 1st at 7:30 p.m. PT

Where: Memorial Stadium in Seattle, WA

Portland Thorns: 5-3-3, 3rd place in the NWSL, 3-0 win vs FC Kansas City

Seattle Reign: 4-2-5, 4th place in the NWSL, 2-1 win vs Chicago Red Stars