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Thorns fall 1-0 to Reign FC in first match at Cheney Stadium

Was this game real? We’re not convinced.

Nikita Taparia

Their first ever trip to Cheney Stadium saw the Portland Thorns fall 1-0 to Reign FC. A converted baseball pitch, Cheney has a wildly different atmosphere from the majority of other soccer venues; most of cheering came from one corner of the pitch, where both the Rose City Riveters and Reign FC’s Royal Guard were located, and the uneven dirt lines surrounding the field created added a somewhat disconnected and surreal mood to the observers of the match.

Thorns coach Mark Parsons, however, was complimentary of the environment at Cheney Stadium, praising the “nice feel, nice atmosphere, the Riveters were unbelievable ... their support was great.” He pointed out that “it is absolutely freaking fantastic not to be going to Memorial Stadium [the Reign’s former home field]. It is the worst place that I’ve stood in, sat in, walked ... I didn’t want to touch a wall in case I caught something. It was bad. It was really bad.”

The Thorns lined up about as was expected with a close to full-strength squad — the notable exception being Elizabeth Ball over Katherine Reynolds at right back. Although Ball has grown tremendously this season, building her confidence, distribution, and one-on-one defending, she has yet to showcase the consistency and stable defensive presence of Reynolds. However, that didn’t stop Ball from putting forth a solid first half, tracking back and winning the ball off Ifeoma Onumonu a number of times and trying to play forward. “Ball with Iffy [Onumonu] is a good match up,” explained coach Mark Parsons. “We like that match up and we felt comfortable that we could keep Iffy quiet.”

It wasn’t just Ball who showed well defensively — the centerback pairing of Emily Menges and Emily Sonnett were able to minimize Reign FC’s attacking chances with some fantastic interceptions and a bit of last-ditch defending. Despite a couple good looks from Tacoma, both sides looked disjointed in the first half.

Portland had their first look on goal in the fifth minute, when Tobin Heath drew a foul from Theresa Nielsen in the Thorns attacking third. Linsdey Horan curved the free kick right into the hands of Casey Murphy, an easy ball to collect. The Reign tried their own luck in the ninth minute, when Onumonu dribbled centrally and tried her luck from the top of the box. Adrianna Franch had the ball covered.

The remainder of the half was similarly back and forth, with both sides finding relatively nonthreatening looks but neither Portland nor Tacoma able to take control of the match. Of note, Heath was shoved in the box by Nielsen in the 16th minute, prompting calls for a penalty that wasn’t awarded. In the 31st minute, it was Steph Catley who was given the first yellow card of the night after she took out Hayley Raso.

“I think it was a typical Reign-Portland game,” said Reign head coach Vlatko Andonovski in his press conference after the match, “at times physical, at times beautiful, at times opportunities, and at times it was just a battle.”

Although both the Thorns and Reign went into half scoreless, it didn’t take long for Tacoma to break through at the top of the second half. In the 55th minute, Onumonu got around Ball and sent a cross into the box, finding the head of Shea Groom. Rosie White managed to find the ball centrally just behind Menges and hit the ball past Franch.

The Reign found another good look in the 59th minute, yet again due to the skill of Onumonu. Picking off a poor backward touch from Lindsey Horan, Onumonu played the ball to White, who pinged her shot off the crossbar.

A handful of substitutions, a couple more attacking looks for Portland — including a stoppage time attempt from Sonnett that went just over — and a Jodie Taylor yellow card comprised the final half hour of the match, but the game ended in a 1-0 draw, the Thorns’ second loss to Reign FC this season.

“These players put in the work that they did; they worked so hard for this and did so many right things,” coach Mark Parsons said of his team. He pointed to Portland missing that “one percent — putting the ball in the right area in the final third, to put the ball in the back of the net, get that contact, or to make sure we don’t give up that contact on the other end,” something the Thorns have lacked at times this season and what ultimately ended up deciding the match.