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Storylines: Thorns at Seattle Reign

(can you find the hidden taco?)
Nikita Taparia

Here we go again.

The Thorns (5-4-5) have their second game in four days and their third in eight days tomorrow night in Seattle (5-3-5). Both teams are coming off draws—Seattle nil-nil against the newly Christen Press-ified Utah, and Portland a depressing 1-1 against a Sky Blue side that now has three whole points on the season. Both teams are sitting on 20 points, although the Reign have a game in hand; Seattle is ahead of Portland in third place on head-to-head. Both teams have yet to really prove they might be title contenders.

In short, what’s always a hard-fought game is likely to be extra contentious.

Projected Starting XI

Don’t panic, but Emily Menges is listed as out on the injury report with “hip pain.” How related that is or is not to the stress fracture that kept her out from the beginning of the season is unknown. That means we’re probably looking at a back line of Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnett, Katherine Reynolds, and Ellie Carpenter in front of AD Franch in goal. Hypothetically, Mark Parsons could also go with a back five with Celeste Boureille or Kelli Hubly as the third CB, but based on those players’ mistakes in the back line in recent games, I’d expect him to opt for more numbers in the center of the pitch instead.

Tobin Heath and Midge Purce are both questionable, and I’m hoping, especially in Heath’s case, that it’s a fine-but-we’re-keeping-our-cards-close-to-the-chest kind of questionable. (Did I mention not to panic? I’m trying to convince myself, honestly.)

If that’s the case, we’re looking at Andressinha, Lindsey Horan, and Christine Sinclair in the central midfield, with Heath drifting inside from the left wing. Hopefully, Purce will be available and will play on the right wing, but if not, we’ll probably see Mallory Weber there. Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic should start at center forward.

Scouting the Opposition

As discussed above, Seattle are in a pretty similar place to Portland, results-wise—and the Thorns can no longer gloat about the fact that the Reign have already played their three matches against Sky Blue, the league punching bag who just drew Portland at home (sigh).

The glaring difference is that, in an embarrassment to Portland’s famed 2016 and 2017 defenses, Seattle currently have the best defensive record in the league, while Portland have the third-worst. Of the 12 goals Seattle has conceded this season, four of those were last weekend against North Carolina. Midweek, they regrouped against Utah and managed to keep Press and company off the board. Seattle was on the back foot for most of that game, but still kept the clean sheet, mostly confining Utah to chances from distance—a few of which were pretty decent but stayed out thanks to good work by former Thorn Michelle Betos.

Goals, on the other hand, have been in short supply for the Reign. With 14 on the season, they have a worse offensive record than the seventh-place Houston Dash. In part, that’s because former Thorn Jodie Taylor hasn’t been doing her job at striker, having notched just three goals this season. Megan Rapinoe has five, four of which were against Sky Blue and one was against the second-to-last-place Washington Spirit. Katie Bowen and Diana Matheson were able to contain her famed crosses pretty effectively on Wednesday; she generally only got loose on transition, when somebody booted one up to her from deep in the midfield.

Gameplan

To state the obvious, Portland has to keep Seattle from scoring. With Franch in goal, they have a better chance of doing that than they did the last time these two teams met. With that said, the back line still isn’t at 100% health. With that said, hopefully Sonnett can go 90 minutes after resting for a half on Wednesday. Carpenter at right back has the pace and brains to contain Rapinoe—one feels better about this defense, in other words, than the one that includes Hubly.

In a boon for the Thorns, Jess Fishlock is out for the game. Horan and Sinclair should be able to control the midfield with the personnel Seattle is left with—Allie Long, Rumi Utsugi, and probably either Bev Yanez or Elizabeth Addo. Of course, Utah controlled the midfield for long stretches on Wednesday and still wasn’t able to put one away, even with Press, who is a far better finisher than any of Portland’s forwards. North Carolina are, of course, North Carolina, but they had success against the Reign, as they so often do, by going direct and Portland should take a page out of their book. With Seattle also on a short rest, plus a plane trip, it’s not hard to imagine Hayley Raso coming off the bench and sprinting onto the end of service by Kling or Andressinha.

Off the pitch, more than 400 Thorns fans will be making the trip north, the most who have ever traveled to Memorial for a Thorns game, and enough to easily drown out noise from the home crowd. If you’re not on one of the buses, drive safe, and be sure to watch your capo to stay together!