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Storylines: Portland Thorns at Reign FC

Matthew Wolfe

The Portland Thorns (7-2-6) — after dropping two points at home to Sky Blue FC last weekend — have the chance to immediately turn things around on a quick midweek trip up to Tacoma to play Reign FC (6-3-5) in their new digs for the first time. It’s a top four NWSL rivalry clash with huge implications for the remainder of the season: The Reign want to secure their hold on the top spots in the NWSL table, and the Thorns want to climb back up into pole position for the NWSL Shield race.

Projected XI

The USWNT players are back after their trip down to the Rose Bowl for the first stop of the victory tour last weekend and should be back in the team. Fullback depth, however, has been significantly impacted after a few unfortunate breaks. Ellie Carpenter is still out with the injury she left the field with away at Utah, though she is listed as questionable. Meghan Klingenberg is also listed as questionable with an illness, and her most likely replacement, Madison Pogarch, has been ruled out with a left ankle injury picked up in training.

In light of this, Elizabeth Ball seems likely to continue at fullback, though she might be playing on the left, and Katherine Reynolds might end up back in her old right back position. On the plus side, Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic has been cleared from the injury report and could also see time at outside back in a pinch.

Game Plan

The Reign have put together an improbably good season this year despite an all-time injury-prone season. They have a full six players on their season-ending injury list, including franchise icon Jess Fishlock, while Megan Rapinoe, after playing an essential role for the USWNT at the World Cup, came back a little banged up and isn’t expected to play.

Despite all this, the Reign are inside the playoff spots with a game in hand over the teams above them. It’s a credit to the way the Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski has been capable of not only setting up a system that gets the best out of his players but also the way he has been continuously reinventing his team. Recently, the team added Rebecca Quinn and Rosie White (among a crop of five new players); White is already contributing in the box score and Quinn adds important midfield depth.

Last time the two teams met, about a month ago, the Reign snuck away from Providence Park with a 1-0 victory thanks to Celia Jimenez Delgado’s first NWSL goal from outside the box, which kicked off a trend the way the Thorns have conceded goals. Including that strike, four of the last seven goals the Thorns have conceded have been strikes from distance either outside the box or just inside. It seems like a somewhat unlikely record and probably an outlier, but it likely has to do with midfield defense. Up against Allie Long in the Reign midfield, minds are likely to be focused — and Lindsey Horan back in the team alongside Gabby Seiler has proven to be one of the most effective midfield duos the team has seen.