Portland-Seattle rivalry week kicks off this Saturday, when the Thorns host the Reign at Providence Park. The Thorns have had an all-too familiar start to the season: every season but 2013 and 2016 has begun with two wins, two draws and a loss. Portland goes into the match in third place and Seattle fourth. Both teams are confident of being in the playoff race as the season goes on.
Projected Starting XI
AD Franch and Bella Geist were not in training midweek, meaning Britt Eckerstrom will start and Adelaide Gay will retain her temporary contract at the club as backup for the time being. Emily Menges is in full training but the club is playing her return very cautiously, as this injury is one that she has suffered before; she is not expected to play until the Wednesday game at the earliest. Andressinha made her first appearance off the bench at Utah and could make her first start.
Meghan Klingenberg will be the big question mark to start after re-injuring her oblique stretching for a challenge against Utah. Mark Parsons said he was hopeful that she could play but wasn’t certain. Mallory Weber played left back well against Washington, but Ellie Carpenter, who got minutes in the position for Australia in the Asian Cup, is also in contention should Klingenberg be unavailable. Tobin Heath, still making her way back to full fitness, is probably only good for 60 minutes maximum.
Scouting the Opposition
A full four former Thorns will likely be taking the field in highlighter on Saturday. Allie Long and Jodie Taylor will be making their first appearances for the Reign against Portland. Michelle Betos will be making her first start against the Thorns since 2013. Steph Catley, on the other hand, is quite familiar with playing against her former club, having scored the Orlando Pride’s first ever goal against the Thorns back in 2016.
Seattle will be missing a key offensive spark in Megan Rapinoe, but Jess Fishlock, after having come off early in last week’s game against Orlando, is officially off the injury report.
The Thorns are 7-6-3 against the Reign all time and 4-2-2 at home. The majority of the all-time wins came in the 2013 season. Last year’s fixture in the early part of the season saw the Thorns draw 2-2 against the Reign in a feisty game in which Jess Fishlock scored for both teams.
Players to Watch
Andressinha played well when she came on against Utah, but how she will function in the Thorns’ tactical setup has yet to be determined. Will she sit deeper in a double pivot with Horan, taking turns to go forward, will Horan stay deeper while Andressinha plays higher, or will Sonnett step into midfield more often to allow them both to push on? Andressinha’s best actions were in pressing high up the field and in playing balls in behind, so playing her as a pure six seems like a waste.
Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic got her first start playing much more like a striker than the other Thorns forwards, who play more like wingers and drop wide more often. Weber looked a bit lost playing as the second striker with freedom to roam around the field; in fairness, it seemed like a tactical role that was more drawn up more for Heath than for Weber. If Heath does start, she will drop either centrally or to the left side of the field in possession, which will leave Midge Purce with the entire right side of the field to herself. Seattle won’t have Megan Rapinoe, but it’s still a lot of responsibility for the young wingback who is still learning her trade. Catley at left back for Seattle is probably among the best in the world, and some of Seattle’s best offense recently has come from deep crosses from her and Theresa Nielsen.
Seattle will be bringing a lot of pressure on the ball in midfield. Allie Long has had a good start to the season but all of the usual caveats apply: she takes too many touches deep and can be pressured off the ball. If she is allowed to get free and make box-to-box runs she can be dangerous in front of goal, so whoever plays in defensive midfield will have to track her runs well.
Seattle play in a similar style as the Utah Royals do: Laura Harvey and Vlatko Andonovski both love high-pressing teams that dominate the midfield. Harvey achieved a measure of success with this tactic last weekend; whether the Thorns can meet the challenge again this Saturday will determine an awful lot of the game. Parsons admitted that this is the way he’d expect teams to line up. “The first thing I’d do if I were playing the Thorns,” he said, “would be stop the midfield, stop Lindsey [Horan] from getting on the ball as much as possible. I thought they did a good job on all three midfielders, but the space to break pressure was there [against Utah]. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t. Seattle’s going to be very similar in how they press the midfield.”
Parsons did note that quicker balls to the front line from the midfield might be an option. “I felt that when our center mids had high pressure we could have skipped them and gone to the higher line and got [the Utah defense] underneath the ball a little better. Playing two similar teams in style and tactics gives us a good opportunity to learn from our last game.”