Today the Seattle Reign's quest for their first win of the season returns to Portland. Despite the differences in the standings (first and last, if you're keeping score) the two previous games against Portland were as close as you'd expect rivalry games to be. Their first matchup was Seattle's second game of the season, just after an opening day draw and before we had any idea how much of a struggle would be in store in the inaugural season. Portland took a 2-0 lead, but a late Jess Fishlock score kept it close and it would finish 2-1. In their second match in Seattle the Reign again played well. . by most accounts outplaying the Thorns through most of the match. . but they fell to the worst penalty call I've ever seen.
There are hopeful signs for Seattle. Their last couple of matches, despite still being losses, have seen good performances from the Reign. They're now losing as much from bad luck as from being outplayed, as was happening through the early season. And both teams will be missing some national team players for international friendlies, and that's a development probably in favor of the Reign. They lose Hope Solo, who started yesterday in a 4-1 victory over Korea Republic, but goalkeeping hasn't really been their weakness this season, as both Haley Kopmeyer and Michelle Betos have been fine — if not Solo-like — covering for her. And maybe more importantly they lose Fishlock to duty with the Wales national team. And despite the large number of midfielders Seattle boasts, Fishlock has unquestionably been the best with her intensity, hard tackling, and great passing vision.
Meanwhile the Thorns lose Alex Morgan and Rachel Buehler to the US and Christine Sinclair to Canada. Without their stellar strike pairing Portland has struggled in the past, maybe indicating that they have great top-level talent but lack in depth.
The depth of both squads will be tested tonight, but Seattle will be buoyed by the returns of Ellie Reed and Kate Deines, two important defensive players who've been out with injury. Still, despite playing better over the last few weeks, their biggest weakness is a lack of finishing ability around the opposing goal. They're averaging less than one goal every two games, and no matter how much they improve the defense and midfield, they can't win if they don't score goals. Tonight would be a fantastic chance to find that scoring touch before we transition into the second half of the season next week.