The Portland Thorns had one final tuneup in their preseason tournament against rivals, OL Reign. The most important result was to make sure they left without any injuries. And in that, they succeeded.
Portland played a strong lineup for the preseason finale. However, they have yet to play their Best XI.
*Not in the lineup or the bench was Sophia Smith (illness).
STARTING XI #BAONPDX— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) March 19, 2023
Christine Sinclair (C)
Morgan Weaver pic.twitter.com/7kqBkQzEsl
Izzy D’Aquila was rewarded with her first start at her natural center forward position after a standout preseason and strong training sessions. Her ability to play anywhere on the frontline will be crucial without Janine Beckie the rest of the year. Hina Sugita filled in at right wing.
The center back pairing of Kelli Hubly and Becky Sauerbrunn will go into the season as the starters with Emily Menges as the third starter. This rotation of center backs will pay dividends with them spelling one another. There seems a huge likelihood that these three will have equal playing time. This match was Becky Sauerbrunn’s only playing time during preseason.
The preseason match was a tale of two halves. The first half was dominated by OL Reign and the other by the Portland Thorns.
In the first half, OL Reign absolutely dominated proceedings. They outshot Portland 7-3, had more 2 more corners, and were way more dangerous in attack. Jess Fishlock scored off a brilliant strike in the 18th minute when the Thorns neglected to pressure her, leaving her open to score.
Head Coach Mike Norris has shown an ability during preseason to make adjustments at halftime and the team seems to respond immediately. That ability is going to payoff in the regular season.
The energy, urgency, and speed of play picked up big time. After being outplayed in the first half, the Thorns were the better side all half. They outshot OL Reign 7-5 in the last 45 minutes. They were unlucky not to have scored, but the response will give them some momentum heading into the opener. Once Rocky and Crystal were subbed in, they helped Portland finally take control of the midfield. Once the momentum shifted, Portland spent the majority of the time in the attacking half.
Head Coach Mike Norris on the preseason finale against OL Reign
“Disappointed with the result. Really happy with the second half. Totally different performance, that’s probably what we want to be. That’s what I told the group at the end. We didn’t get the win, but I definitely feel when we look at day one of preseason, we’ve grown. That is the second half that we’re proud of. That’s what we’ll be looking to produce on a more consistent basis.”
- Crystal Dunn - If it wasn’t obvious, Dunn is an elite midfielder. She is a perfect 8 or 10 in this system for this team. Head Coach Mike Norris can put her in midfield or at RW in the Starting XI for the season opener.
- Bella Bixby - Came up big on numerous occasions. If it weren’t for her, this game could of easily gotten out of hand. “She’s our keeper!”
- Natalia “Natu” Kuikka - The amount of times she committed to the attack and managed to track back was staggering. There aren’t many RBs in the league who put in the mileage that she does. Natu’s presence at RB is as steady as they come.
- Becky Sauerbrunn - The GOAT defender made her preseason debut for Portland and is ready to roll for the opener. She looked good and cleared up a lot of the attacks from the Reign. This was a good game to have her get all of the rust off due to the amount of action the backline had to deal with.
- Reyna Reyes - The #5 overall pick in the 2023 NWSL draft has been exceptional in her minutes against the U-23 Women’s Youth National Team and OL Reign. Her decision making is quick, passes have been crisp, and defending has been effective. She can play LB, RB, and midfield.
- Hina Sugita - Hina Hive, Unite!
Sugita started at right wing, but she had the freedom to roam up and down the right side all night. She put in the defensive effort and dangerous crosses into the box all evening. There does not seem to be a position that Hina cannot play. Her technical ability just shines through every match and this was no different.