The Portland Thorns will take on OL Reign in the Thorns’ final match of the NWSL Challenge Cup group stage on July 13 at 9:30 am (PT). The Reign have played to a 0-0 draw with Sky Blue FC, lost 2-0 to the Houston Dash and beat the Utah Royals 1-0.
In the Reign’s first two games they had 54.8 percent possession, a tournament best. They also kept 55 percent possession in their third match. Overall, the Reign like to have the ball at their feet and look to dictate the tempo of the match.
Despite having loads of possession, the Reign have struggled to create in the final third. Against the Royals, substitutes Bethany Balcer and Yuka Momiki came on and created the danger in the final third that the Reign have lacked all tournament. Momiki’s service late in the match found the head of Balcer, who drifted in between the centerbacks. Balcer headed in the Reign’s only goal of the tournament so far.
The central defensive midfielders are crucial to the Reign in both attack and defense. Allie Long or Kristen McNabb drop between the centerbacks to receive the ball and then help circulate the ball forward. Both players are also important in recovering the ball and breaking up transition opportunities.
The Reign were sloppy in possession against the Royals. In the first half, the majority of Utah’s scoring chances resulted from cheap giveaways by the centerbacks and midfielders allowing Amy Rodriguez to run at the backline in space.
In the match against the Houston Dash, Kristie Mewis scored within 13 minutes when the Dash won the ball after a sloppy giveaway.
The Thorns’ have pressed well throughout the tournament and should be able to unsettle the Reign in possession to force giveaways the midfield and forwards can capitalize on. Portland will attempt to pressure McNabb or Long, forcing them into deep giveaways and limiting their influence in possession.
In defense, the Reign had forward Jodie Taylor igniting the press to force the keeper and backline into playing the ball long so the Reign could recover the ball quickly. At times, the Reign pressed woman-to-woman to regain possession quickly.
This is the last game before the knockout rounds so both teams are expected to rotate and rest some key players. But all the teams in the group stage matchday will be looking to win to avoid the North Carolina Courage in the first knockout round. Therefore, we may see a less rotated line-up to ensure a more favorable opponent and to build chemistry between the players who will start when it is win or go home.
Regardless of the starting line-up, the Thorns could exploit the weaknesses of the Reign. Combination play and organized pressure should allow Portland to create dangerous opportunities in transition. Also, the Reign have had the luxury of keeping the majority of the possession in all of their matches, but the Portland midfield has the quality to maintain possession and dictate the pace of the match at the Reign’s expense. The Thorns’ defense has also been solid and the Reign have not posed a great offensive threat. With favorable seeding on the line, the Thorns will need to be much more clinical than they have been in the previous matches.