The Portland Thorns (2-1-1, 8pts) suffered their first loss of the 2014 campaign, as Kim Little scored a 89th minute goal for Seattle Reign FC (6-0-0, 18pts.) to give them their first victory over their Pacific Northwest rivals in front of 14,182 at Providence Park.
In a match featuring several subtexts, including the connections to both cities from either sides, five former Portland Pilots in the starting lineups, and two of the world's best goalkeepers, the fans in attendance were given a treat from the start.
The Thorns came out with a different look, bringing out a 4-3-2-1 formation that featured Kat Tarr making her first start of the season at left back and pushing Rebecca Moros into a holding midfielder role.
The match opened up at a frantic pace, with Angie Kerr introduced herself to Reign goalkeeper Hope Solo in the 2nd minute, shooting a low ball from 30 yards out, but it went straight to keeper.
Solo would find herself challenge once again a couple minutes later, this time forced to punch a punch a Tarr header off and over the crossbar as Amber Brooks found her just on the edge of the 6 yard box.
The Reign got their first chance of the match a minute later, as Elli Reed got the ball wide and took a shot at Nadine Angerer, but it was easily covered.
For the next several minutes both sides had spells of possession as the match slowed down, but neither were able to generate any dangerous opportunities, though Seattle nearly had one in the 14th minute when Nikki Marshall mishit a clearance that popped up, but it went right to Angerer.
Christine Sinclair got her first touch on the ball in a dangerous area in the 17th minute, as Kerr found her just outside of the spot, but her header went wide and straight to Solo.
After several more minutes of neither side being able to crack the opponent's defense, Courtney Niemiec found Jessica McDonald with a deep pass from midfield, but Solo read the play well and cut off the angle, forcing her shoot from a poor spot that sent the ball wide in the 27th minute.
Sinclair gave the Thorns another chance a few minutes later, as she sent in a cross to Allie Long near the 6, but Solo tracked the ball perfectly despite colliding with Long and briefly losing the ball.
Former Thorn Danielle Foxhoven gave the Reign their first opportunity on goal in several minutes, as several Thorns scrambled to cover her, but Angerer had no trouble making the save in the 37th minute.
With the clock winding down on the first half, both teams had forays into the attack, but neither attack generated a true threat as the defenses held firm, closing down attackers before they could get their shot off, with one exception.
In the 45th minute, Sinclair led a break up the field and laid the ball off to McDonald, who brought the ball into the box and fired a low shot, but it was no trouble for Solo.
As the teams went into halftime, the Thorns had advantages in shots on goal (3-1), total shots (7-6), while the teams were even in corner kicks (3-3) and Seattle was called offside 3 times and Portland once.
The Thorns started the second half much like the first, coming out strong and bringing the ball into the attack early, looking to get a chance early, which came in the 48th minute, as Sinclair headed an Amber Brooks corner on frame, but Reed blocked it off the line.
Seattle would get their first chance a few minutes later, as they tried to find Sydney Leroux off a long through ball, but she was slowed by a shadowing Brooks and an onrushing Angerer knocked the ball away.
This set off a spell of possession for the Reign over the next several minutes, but there was never any real danger, with their best chance coming off a cross in the 55th minutes, but reached out and grabbed Keelin Winters' cross before Seattle could get a touch in the box.
Long gave the Thorns their best chance in several minutes, as Long split two defenders and took a shot from 25 yards out, only to see her shot go straight to solo in the 60th minute.
The match then resumed its back and forth form, with both defenses snuffing out the attack before it became dangerous. Sinclair would change this in the 65th minute, as she brought the ball up the field and was fouled just outside the 18, earning a free kick just off the corner, but the free kick led to a Reign break before the Thorns defense recovered.
The Thorns got another solid chance a minute later, as Tarr found McDonald near the spot, but Solo was just able to push it over the bar, leading to a corner, that was sent in low to Kerr who dummied the ball to Brooks, who slammed a shot on goal, but Solo once again made the save.
They continued their onslaught after a Reign substitution, as Kerr sent the ball in from 40 yards out to McDonald and Sinclair, who collided with a Seattle defender just in front of goal, with McDonald getting her head on the ball, but it went just over the bar.
Seattle looked to break the Thorns spell of possession with a chance of their own, as they pinged the ball around the attacking third, but they were unable to make a connection as Angerer punched the ball away as she collided with Jess Fishlock.
The Thorns looked to keep up their attacked by subbing on Mana Shim for Allie Long in the 75th minute, who looked to make an immediate impact with a cross in to McDonald, but it floated to Solo, who's clearance went out of bounds.
This became advantageous for the Reign, as they were quickly able to control the ball and bring it down the field, but Tarr block the shot and Marshall was able to chase the ball down in the corner and send it up the touchline. A minute later the Thorns defense needed to step up again, this time with Emily Menges clearing it away.
Once again the Reign would have an opportunity in the attack, as Bev Goebel found herself alone with Angerer, but her weakly hit shot went right into the net minder's arms.
The Thorns returned with an attack of their own, as Tarr found McDonald, who dribbled in then crossed to Sinclair, who one-touched the ball to Brooks, who had a defender draped on her as her shot went to Solo.
On the ensuing possession, Menges sent the ball up the field between two defenders to Sinclair, who brought it in and took a low shot on Solo, who kicked-saved the ball away.
The Reign nearly had a chance on goal, as a ball floated into Fishlock in the 6, but her touch failed her and the ball went over the bar.
Sinclair then found herself with another solid chance near the 6 as Shim found her with a perfectly placed ball, but once again Solo was able to make the save.
The Reign had chance off the restart, with Kim Little finding herself open in front of goal, but her shot was no trouble for Angerer. On the ensuing possession, Leroux was nearly on the end of a cross in front of goal, but Niemiec broke up the play before the striker could touch the ball and Angerer dove on the ball.
Things broke down for the Thorns just before the clock struck 90, as Moros had the ball stolen from her by Goebel, who found Little along by herself with just Angerer to beat, who she got to commit too early on a save, allowing Little to drag the ball past her and easily netting her 5th goal of the season.
With three minutes of added time the Thorns looked to find an equalizer, getting one last chance as Sinclair laid the ball off to Brooks, but her shot went straight into the body of a defender.
The result saw the return of an old problem for the Thorns: closing out matches. While the Thorns were in control for much of the second half, that one late mistake cost them a point and sent the Reign 10 points clear of them on the table, with both Kansas City and Western New York leapfrogging them on Sunday, putting the Thorns in 4th, though with two games in hand on KC.
Overall, Thorns head coach Paul Riley was impressed with his side. "I think the first half of any game is a bit more like a chess match. I don't think either team played that great in the first half. I thought we were okay in the first half. I thought [Seattle] was okay in the first half. Then second half, we got into a much better rhythm. We found Sinclair in some good areas second half. She had a couple of really glorious chances. But I think the main thing, for me, is that she is taking the shots and she's in those areas because up until now, she hasn't really been in those areas. She's been providing the pass to Jessica [McDonald], more so than anybody and to Allie [Long]. I think having her in the box, it's only a matter of time before she scores. It was a great header that Kat [Tarr] header [Solo] pushed over and Sinclair had another header and a couple of other chances. I was happy with Sinclair again. She got in great areas. [McDonald] caused problems again. She's not going to score every week and we had kind of been relying on Allie and Jess for goals. ...Angie Kerr had her best game of the season. Rebecca Moros came in, in a different position for her and had a really good game. We played a different formation tonight and I was really happy with the team overall."
In the second half, the Thorns separates themselves statistically from the Reign, finishing the match with 18 total shots and 9 on goal (14 and 5 for Seattle) and earned 7 corner (4 for Seattle).
The Thorns will have a quick turnaround, facing Houston on Wednesday, which Angerer thought would help the Thorns. "I think it's very good that we have a game in four days in Houston. We have no time to think about losing today. We lost today, that's true, but we didn't lose anything. We lost three points, but we didn't lose a championship or a final or something. We know what we have to work on, what we have to improve. The worst thing we could do now is to get depressed or something. We lost today and this is not good, but still we are looking forward and we are very positive. I'm very positive about our team."
- The Thorns lost for the first time since August 27, 2013.
- Tarr made her 1st start of the season.
- Long and Marshall made their 27th consecutive regular season starts.
- Elisabeth Sullivan made her first appearance of the season, playing in 2nd half added time.
- The Thorns tied their season high with 18 shots.