The Portland Thorns secured a home semi-final draw in the NWSL playoffs by beating the Seattle Reign 3-1. The Thorns went down early to a Jess Fishlock wonder strike but recovered to have one of their best and most dominant performances of the season to get their first win against Seattle all year.
Midge Purce was preferred to Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic on the right wing for the only change from last week’s game away at the Washington Spirit. Neither Allie Long nor Megan Rapinoe, both recovering from injury, were risked by Seattle.
Before the teams really had a chance to feel each other out, Jess Fishlock, as she so often does against the Thorns, produced a moment of brilliance, spinning of Emily Menges and nestling a shot just inside Franch’s far post with Emily Sonnett in her face in the fourth minute. She managed to get her shot away with very little space from the top of the box. Fishlock, who rattled off a list of all the Seattle/Portland games she participated in during her media appearance the week before the game, clearly relished the strike on what has become for her a familiar stage.
The Thorns, who had otherwise come out of the blocks confidently, looked rattled by the early goal and struggled to put together their offensive motion early, with Seattle’s press in midfield getting the better of them. Jasmine Spencer managed to nick a few balls off of Lindsay Horan’s feet, a rare occurrence for Horan. Despite the goal, neither offense generated much of note in the opening stages: until the Thorns opened up. Seattle’s pressure, so effective and coordinated in the first few minutes, became just the slightest bit disjointed and the Thorns pounced. Christine Sinclair had a header off target in the 10th minute, and Sinclair stumbled through a crowd of four Reign defenders in the 17th minute but her cross narrowly avoided Caitlin Foord. The best opportunity for the Thorns in the early stages was when a Tobin Heath cross was nearly sent into Lydia Williams’ net by Steph Catley making a recovery tackle. Lydia Williams appeared to just barely keep the ball from crossing the line.
Ellie Carpenter nearly replicated Fishlock’s goal on the other side of the field in the 24th minute (from nearly the exact same position) after being sent forward by Lindsey Horan, her shot beating Williams but being denied by the post.
The Thorns managed to turn their dominance into a goal in the 30th minute, with Horan drawing them level. Carpenter led a break on the inside right wing, before dishing the ball to Purce who sent in a perfect cross for Christine Sinclair who had the ball nicked off her feet by Christen Westphal. Horan, arriving into the box late, cleaned up nicely with a driven shot past Williams.
Portland would continue to pile on the pressure through the rest of the half, going close with a few more headers and pinning Seattle in their own half for long stretches. Seattle made a point of trying to slow the game down to get themselves back into it. They would not win their first corner until stoppage time at the end of the half.
The Thorns, picking up where they left off after coming out from halftime, pulled ahead in the 49th minute. It was a simple goal borne out of effective Thorns pressure: The Reign were attempting to build play out of the back Tobin Heath picking off a stray Morgan Andrews pass deep in the Reign half and striding forward before curling a shot on the run directly into Williams’ net.
The match would go on to get testy, with Sonnett getting a yellow card for a hard tackle on Christen Westphal. Sonnett’s protestations would draw over Fishlock, and the two exchanged a few words before their teammates seperated them. Eliazbeth Addo picked up a yellow not long after for a foul on Horan and looked fully prepared to continue the argument.
Throughout the Thorns kept knocking on the door. Purce nearly put a shot into the bottom corner of Lydia Williams’ net in the 61st minute off a deflected goal, and Seattle nearly put an own goal in off the resulting corner. Seattle’s crossing improved from the first half as they got more space on the flanks but their shooting still largely happened from the outside of the box.
Theresa Nielsen, coming back from international duty with Denmark, was subbed into the game in the 68th minute for Christen Westphal in a straight swap. Bev Yanez came on for Rumi Utsugi in the 74th minute.
Foord nearly snuck a ball through a crowd of players in the 76th minute with a driven shot into the ground but Williams was able to react late to make the save. Foord nearly beat Williams again in the 80th minute after a picking up the ball off a break led by Purce but was denied by Williams’s outstretched arms at her near post.
The Thorns could not be denied for much longer, however. From the resulting corner in the 82nd minute Lindsay Horan, yet again, slipped in front of her marker on a corner and sent a soft redirection into the side netting.
Foord was subbed off for Tyler Lussi in the 85th minute, completing the most minutes she has all season.
The Reign went close late, getting into a good position in the 89th minute from deep service before Emily Sonnett could clear after multiple bounces. Elizabeth Ball subbed on for Midge Purce in stoppage time, and not long after Andressinha came on for Tobin Heath, allowing the Riveters to get one last good applause line before closing out the win.