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Reign start strong with preseason win over Portland

Goals from Havana Solaun and Jess Fishlock power the Reign to a 2-0 victory in the team's first preseason match.

It took them awhile to find their footing, but two goals in two minutes gave the Seattle Reign a 2-0 win over Portland Thorns FC.

Both teams started what is expected to be their preferred Starting XI on Day 1. For the Reign, that meant Manon Melis started up top with Bev Yanez and Merritt Mathias. Jess Fishlock, Kim Little, and Keelin Winters began in midfield. Along the back line, Lauren Barnes started at left back, a position she played in 2013, while Rachel Corsie and Kendall Fletcher paired up in the middle, Elli Reed filled in at right back, and Hope Solo started in goal.

Despite this being the first preseason match for both teams, their new-but-intense rivalry was in full force the entire 90 minutes. Physical play. Aggressive challenges. Intense stares. It certainly felt like a regular season game.

But let's be clear: this was a preseason match. The Reign's first. That was rather evident at the start of the game, as Portland had Seattle on its heels for the first 15 minutes, moving the ball around effectively in the midfield. On the offensive end, the Reign were attempting a high percentage of long balls, an atypical strategy for the possession-heavy Seattle side.

Despite the early pressure, the Reign settled in and began to dominate play. Both teams had a few good looks at goal, including a Christine Sinclair header off the crossbar and a Merritt Mathias shot that went just wide. However, neither side could convert, and it was 0-0 at half.

Seattle and Portland began the second half with nearly all of their starters, but as the game progressed, a number of new additions entered the match. Carson Pickett, the fourth pick in this year's draft, came in at left back. She looked confident and quick on the ball and had a few strong crosses or passes into the box.

Havana Solaun, last year's draft pick who missed the entire season with a broken ankle, came on in the 72nd minute. Solaun, a technically strong player, looked solid from the beginning, perhaps due to her recent play with the U-23 national team. In the 75th minute, she settled a beautiful Kim Little cross and hit a low shot past Michelle Betos with the outside of her right foot, giving Seattle the 1-0 lead.

That play actually began all the way on the other half of the field, when Fishlock collected the ball on a Thorns corner kick, carried it to half, and sent a perfect long ball across the field to Little.

After that goal, the Reign dominated the match. A blocked Kim Little opportunity and Bev Yanez shot on the rebound led to a corner kick in the 77th. Despite the fact that she was running away from and had her back to goal, Fishlock skied into the air over Allie Long and flicked the ball to the back post. It was rather lovely.

The match ended at 2-0, giving the Reign their first win in 2016. Michelle Cruz, Lindsay Elston, Dani Foxhoven, and Kiersten Dallstream also put in solid second-half shifts for the Reign. Seattle outshot the Thorns 14-8 and will face Portland four more times this year in the regular season, something Thorns fans are not thrilled about.

Seattle will now face the Houston Dash on Wednesday, and Oregon State University on Saturday, April 2. Both matches will be played at Providence Park. After the tournament, the Reign return to Seattle for their final preseason match against UW on April 9.

Our beloved Seattle Reign are back. They beat Portland in preseason play. Pretty great weekend, I'd say.

Additional Observations

  • Manon Melis, the newest Laura Harvey international recruit from the Netherlands, is very fast. While she was clearly still getting a feel for her teammates, she was a constant threat on the right side. Her pace and tenacity are going to be a great addition for the Reign.
  • While Lauren Barnes was all over the field at left back, Carson Pickett also had a strong showing there in the second half. She made smart decisions going forward, especially when choosing whether to lob in a cross or put the ball on the ground.
  • Havana Solaun got herself in great positions, and it paid off with her first Reign goal. I expect her to get some significant minutes this year.
  • The Thorns began to crumble when they made subs in the second half. While their Starting XI is really strong, their bench looks to be a weakness. This is going to hurt the team a lot when their 5-6 international stars are gone for national team call-ups.

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