This is not the recap we wanted to write, but such is life.
Not much needed to be said going into Saturday’s match in terms of what was on the line — the winner moves on to next Saturday’s NWSL Championship Game, and the loser packs up for the year.
The match was end-to-end action, with Seattle dominating possession in the opening minutes and threatening, but Portland would get their spell in the 17th minute off a throw-in that saw the Thorns with three solid chances on goal and subsequent corners that somehow, perhaps miraculously, Seattle was able to stand tall, block and clear out.
Seattle opened the scoring when a Megan Rapinoe free kick was punched and kissed off the crossbar by Portland Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, but Jasmyne Spencer made a back-post run and volleyed the rebound into the back of the net.
With the momentum on their side, Seattle would see more opportunities to pounce and add a second, and possibly a third, if it weren’t for the heroics of Franch.
If there were any unconvinced parties in terms of who has built up a bullet-proof argument as to why they should be seeing minutes with the US national team, it is Franch. Her performance on the showtime stage of the NWSL Playoffs was superhuman.
Reign FC forward Jodie Taylor was fed some amazing balls and got off some shots that — on any other day, any other keeper — would be going in and padding Seattle’s lead, but Franch was there.
And there again.
In the second half, Portland thought they got their second goal in the 69th minute, but it was controversially (and let’s be honest, wrongly) called off for offside on Tobin Heath.
The hosts though got their second properly in the 77th minute when Christine Sinclair sent a pass into the box, and wouldn’t you know it, Lindsey Horan was left unmarked in the box, got in the air, and there’s your dagger.
From there it was textbook closing the game by Portland. Seattle was unable to penetrate the midfield and put in any ball that threatened Portland’s defense or goalkeeper. And just like that, the full time whistle blew, and Portland has a chance to win their third NWSL Championship in front of their home fans, and the 2018 Seattle Reign FC season is over.
Losing to Portland stings. Losing to them in the playoffs really, really stings. You saw it on the players’ faces when they hung their heads as they sat on the field after the full-time whistle. The team eventually formed a circle, as they always do after the match, and Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski spoke. We asked Andonovski what he said to the team.
“I told them I’m very sorry for them. That I love them so much and I can’t wait for the start of next season, because I thought we had a great season and we still have a lot of room to improve. I told them what happened out there, I didn’t prepare them good enough because I thought when the game was played, we were the better team. I thought when the game got tough, when the game got ugly, we didn’t know how to match ugly and that’s on me. I have to prepare them for that.”
Andonovski has never been shy to admit if he got it wrong when it comes to preparing the team for a match. While Seattle did respond better in comparison to their performance in last week’s regular season finale, it still wasn’t good enough. Portland beat Seattle with the bread and butter of sending long balls over the top, which Seattle wasn’t able to adjust to and respond accordingly. Mark Lindsey Horan in the box? Easier said than done. The mental hangover will feel like an eternity for the team, the players, coaches, staff, and fans, but it could easily galvanize this squad next year.
Seattle may have fallen short of ultimate glory, and there will be plenty of time in the offseason to reflect and asks multitudes of should have, could have, would have, but make no mistake: This team was good. This team was fun. This team can compete next year.
There was a lot of uncertainty in an offseason that saw a coaching change, many familiar faces leaving, even more new ones coming in. Vlatko Andonovski was tasked with taking a team that missed the playoffs for two straight seasons and guiding them through what most outside observers thought would be a rebuild.
It turned out to be anything but as the 2018 Reign returned to the playoffs and fielded one of the league’s best defenses along the way.
So while Seattle’s season may be done, the show must go on for the NWSL. Portland Thorns FC now awaits the winner of the North Carolina Courage versus Chicago Red Stars semifinal that will be played on Tuesday, September 18 with a 6 PM PST broadcast start time at Providence Park. Why there? Well, because of Hurricane Florence.
The 2018 NWSL Championship Game will take place at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon next Saturday, September 22. Lifetime Network will have the broadcast, which is scheduled for a 1:30 PM PT start time.