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Reign shut out Portland Thorns 1-0

Celia Jimenez Delgado’s first NWSL goal settled the match as Portland got kept off the scoreboard.

Bennett Dewan

Reign FC handed the Thorns their second loss of the season and first at home as Celia Jimenez Delgado scored a wonderstrike and the Reign defense restricted Portland’s attack via some strong defending and goalkeeping from the team with one of the better defensive records in the league.

Coach Mark Parsons chose to retain the back four and a half formation that has seen the team go undefeated during the World Cup period, with Christine Sinclair replacing Andressinha in attacking midfield, Caitlin Foord coming in for Simone Charley and bringing Ellie Carpenter into the starting lineup after she came off the bench away at Houston.

An injury-challenged Reign, meanwhile, shifted Ceila Jimenez Delgado into midfield from the backline in the absence of Jess Fishlock, who came out of last week’s game against the Utah Royals with an ACL injury. Former Thorn Ifeoma Onumonu, NWSL player of the week two weeks ago, started in her first appearance back in Portland. Surprisingly, Fishlock, someone who always takes a particular joy out of these rivalry games, was missed in a game that lacked a bit of an edge for large stretches.

Large parts of the opening stages felt more like a chess match than a series of athletic feats as the two teams competed for position in the middle of the park. Gabby Seiler, one of the players to really make their mark on the World Cup season, was a force in midfield, winning balls high up the field and starting quick counters and breaking up Reign attacks before they could get very far. The Reign, behind their experienced backline of Megan Oyster and Lauren Barnes, made critical interventions into Portland attacks to stop them from developing into shooting opportunities.

The best opportunity early came when Carpenter, a source of much of the early offense, beat Steph Catley on the dribble and sent in a low cross right ahead of Foord that Reign goalkeeper Casey Murphy had to get down low quickly to clear.

The Reign spent much of the first half on their heels, but managed to generate a few opportunities all the same, coming closest from a low Megan Oyster shot from a corner that Britt Eckerstrom easily collected.

The Thorns had a flurry of opportunities just before halftime: Gabby Seiler won the ball high upfield and shot from the top of the box but sent her effort just over. Carpenter, after driving to the endline beating Onumonu, sent in a low cross right in front of Foord, whose mishit nearly went in but for Murphy to palm the bouncing ball off the line from the floor.

Hayley Raso came on to adulation just after halftime for Foord, making her first appearance at home since returning from the back injury that kept her out for several months in 2018.

Out of nowhere, in the 55th minute, the Reign got themselves an opener. Ceila, returning from World Cup duty with Spain, lined up a shot from outside the box after the Thorns declined to clear the ball a few time and sent one through Menges’ legs and into the side netting for her first goal in the NWSL.

Parsons immediately went to the drawing board after conceding, going to a back four, sending on Simone Charley for Elizabeth Ball. Charley was immediately effective, reprising her role of picking up loose balls in the defensive third and running downhill whenever possible, drawing defenders to her and fouls in the process. In the 67th minute, Andressinha came on for Seiler as the Thorns went all out attack.

With the Thorns pushing forward, the Reign grew into the game, with Shea Groom leading the charge on the break. She very nearly sent Bev Yanez through on goal after pulling the Thorns defense out of position, but Yanez was just offside.

Purce had a good chance in the 85th minute: after a Carpenter long throw, Sinclair flicked the ball on from the near post and Purce caught the ball on the volley, but sent her shot over the bar. The Reign sat back and absorbed Thorns pressure to close out the match, and Portland wouldn’t get another good opportunity for the rest of the game.