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Reign Report: A Thorny playoff opponent

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It’s a big game on the grandest of stages. Seattle hopes to earn a trip to the championship — against Portland, in Portland.

Reign vs Thorns Photo credit - MikeRussellFoto

What You’ll Watch

Well, this Reign Report sure feels familiar. Just a week and a day after facing off against their rivals, Seattle Reign FC returns to Providence Park to face the Portland Thorns in an NWSL Playoff semifinal match. The Saturday afternoon game marks the fourth meeting between the two in regular season play, with Reign FC winning the first two games in May and June, but Portland smoking Seattle 3-1 in their final meeting on Sept. 7.

That win put the Thorns into second place with a record of 12-6-6 (42 points in 24 games played; 1.75 ppg) and Reign FC into third place with a record of 11-5-8 (41 points in 23 games played; 1.71 ppg).

This will be a nationally televised game showing the fiercest rivalry in all of the NWSL. Tune in to Lifetime to watch two of the best teams in the league face off, with a spot in the NWSL Championship on the line.

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: W-W-W-T-W with 10 goals scored and four goals conceded

Leading Goal Scorer: Lindsey Horan, 13 goals

Assist Leader: Tobin Heath, seven

Injury Report, Suspensions and International Duty

Portland

OUT: Meg Morris (left hip pain – SEI), Hayley Raso (L2-L4 transverse process fracture), Katherine Reynolds (right knee MCL repair)

Seattle

OUT: Yael Averbuch (illness – SEI), Kiersten Dallstream (right knee sprain – SEI), Kristen McNabb (right knee strain)

QUESTIONABLE: Allie Long (right knee sprain), Megan Rapinoe (rib soreness)

Match Officials

REFEREE: Ramy Touchan

AR1: Chris Elliott

AR2: Deleana Quan

4TH: Danielle Chesky

What to Watch

Unfortunately for Seattle, they happen to be facing a Thorns team that is close to full health and playing its best soccer. The team hasn’t lost in five straight matches, and just dismantled the Reign a week ago in front of more than 21,000 fans.

Fortunately for Seattle, a rebound performance is theirs for the taking. The team that showed up to Providence Park last weekend was not the Reign FC side fans have come to celebrate this year — a squad that wins duels, fights for the ball, and grits their way through results. That Seattle squad should be the ones stepping onto the field this Saturday.

When it comes to stopping Portland, there are three things opponents need to focus on. First, the Thorns — with their speed and movement — are a team that will pounce on any mistake in their opponent’s defensive half. They did just that last Friday, when Tobin Heath picked off a misplayed back pass and skillfully cut through defenders and put a perfect shot into the back of the net. Seattle will have to be crisp in their passing and decision-making, and then quick to get bodies back defensively should any balls get mishandled.

Portland also is lethal on set pieces. Lindsey Horan has some incredible movement in the box and can free herself from defenders seemingly on will. Too often, viewers are left screaming at the TV or their computer screens, “JUST FREAKING MARK HORAN.” It doesn’t work, but it’s also something Reign FC have talked a lot about this week. They should have a better sense of her and her team’s movement on set-piece plays — and hopefully won’t let her sneak another header into goal.

Finally, as Horan and Christine Sinclair showed last Friday in the team’s opening goal, Portland is quite good at sneaking late runners into the box. It was a challenge on a Sinclair run into the box that popped the ball out to Horan, who was streaking at the top of the box. Her one-time shot was blasted into the back of the net. Horan, Heath, and Sinclair are all capable of timing their runs perfectly to put themselves in the box for a rebound, clearance, backpass, or cross. It’s going to be critically important for Seattle to communicate and mark tightly in the midfield to contest the ball at the top of the box.

With Megan Rapinoe expected to be back in the starting lineup, Seattle should have more options in the attack — and may also limit Portland’s ability to press through both outside backs. If Allie Long returns, the midfield just got a lot more organized and calm. And with Theresa Nielsen slotting in at right back, the back four that tied an NWSL record for shutouts is together once more.

Put the past games between these two teams aside. It’s a new start, and there’s plenty on the line. The match is going to be a thrilling playoff affair. Fans won’t want to miss it.

Quick Keys

  • Do whatever you must to mark Lindsey Horan on set pieces
  • Don’t make mistakes in Seattle’s defensive third
  • Mark those late runs into the box

How to Watch

Date/Time: Saturday, September 15 @ 12:00 PM PT

Location: Providence Park — Portland, Oregon

TV: Lifetime

Streaming: MyLifetime.com, NWSLSoccer.com (International)