Seattle came into today’s match in desperate need of a win, to start off the post-break run with momentum, to even the season series against the rival Thorns, and — most importantly — to keep pace in the quest for a playoff spot with time quickly running out. And thanks to two confident Manon Melis finishes and a Megan Rapinoe insurance goal in injury time, they got that win.
Laura Harvey deployed a boldly attacking lineup in this one, perhaps frustrated at the fact that Seattle had only scored one goal total in the previous three matches against Portland. With winger Merritt Mathias playing a sort of roving right back and hybrid midfielder/fullback Rumi Utsugi getting her first start at left back, the only true defenders in the lineup were Lauren Barnes and Kendall Fletcher.
And the lineup worked, without significantly compromising the defense. The Thorns had a few decent chances around the box, but thanks to tireless work by the defenders and Jess Fishlock and Keelin Winters not enough to get a goal until it was nearly too late.
The Thorns’ plans weren’t helped when their star international Amandine Henry had to leave the match after 15 minutes with what looked like a lower back injury. Her absence reinforced Seattle’s possession dominance and Portland was left with counterattacks and set pieces for the remainder of the match.
The breakthrough came in the 27th when Naho Kawasumi got free on the right and curled a perfect cross (as she’s been known to do) in front of a racing Melis, who tapped the ball over Michelle Betos for the lead.
Naho put that ball on a KLM flight and it landed right in front of Melis, to chip over Betos for the goal. pic.twitter.com/l6abs4H2vr— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) August 27, 2016
Early in the second half Melis struck again, when rookie defender Emily Sonnett completely misread what should have been a routine backpass and let it roll behind her for the Dutch speedster to pick up and send to the back of the net.
And here is Melis' double. pic.twitter.com/HSR1wJ99KG— Ride of theValkyries (@rovalks) August 27, 2016
There were more chances late, including an open Winters shot that went wide and a Little shot off the post, but just as injury time began it was the Thorns who struck next, when a free kick found Allie Long open in the box to tap the ball past Haley Kopmeyer, and suddenly the game got interesting.
That is, until a completely gassed Fishlock still managed to lead a breakaway and find Rapinoe, who had subbed on late in the match for her 2016 Reign debut. The US international showed no rust as she finished far post to put the match away.
It was a thorough win over their rivals in front of a season-high crowd of 5,888, but attention will have to quickly shift to next weekend’s match in Chicago, who are one of the teams Seattle is chasing for the playoffs. We’ll likely need at least a draw there to keep hope alive, but with Rapinoe back and the team looking dangerous all across the field there’s no doubt they can do it.