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Reign Report: Cascadia rivals battle for second best

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It’s win and lock up a home playoff game or hit the road in the first round of the playoffs.

Reign vs. Thorns MikeRussellFoto

What You’ll Watch

Seattle Reign FC and the Portland Thorns will meet on Friday in Portland to determine who will lock up second place and host a semifinal match in the playoffs. A win or a draw will see Reign FC secure the second seed and possibly see them play the Thorns in the semifinal game. This is the third and final meeting between the two in regular season play, with Reign FC winning both prior games, 3-2 and 1-0 on May 5 and June 30, respectively.

The Thorns currently sit in third place with a record of 11-6-6 (39 points in 23 games played; 1.70 ppg) and Reign FC sit in second place with a record of 11-4-8 (41 points in 23 games played; 1.78 ppg).

This will be a nationally televised game showing the fiercest rivalry in all of the NWSL. If you have nothing on your schedule Friday night, you better tune in to Lifetime to watch two of the best teams in the league.

A Look at the Enemy

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

Leading Goal Scorer: Lindsey Horan, 11 goals

Assist Leader: Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath, six each

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)

QUESTIONABLE: Meghan Klingenberg (left adductor strain)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None

Seattle

OUT: Yael Averbuch (illness – SEI), Kiersten Dallstream (right knee sprain – SEI), Adriana Leon (excused absence)

QUESTIONABLE: Allie Long (right knee sprain), Megan Rapinoe (rib soreness), Beverly Yanez (right foot fracture)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None

Match Officials

REFEREE: Tim Ford

AR1: Benjamin Wooten

AR2: Walter Heatherly

4th: Chad Stewart

What to Watch

While Portland began the season with three in the back, they have played more of a 4-2-3-1 formation in the last month, with Meghan Klingenberg and Australian international Ellie Carpenter on the outsides, and Emily Menges and Emily Sonnett holding down the line at centerback.

For the Thorns, there is no player more important than Lindsey Horan. The box-to-box midfielder is always involved in Portland’s play, whether tracking back defensively, moving the ball to the Thorns forwards, or pushing into the box in their attack. She leads the league in touches per 90, averaging 84. When Horan is unable to get involved, the team struggles, and Seattle did a good job to contain her in their 1-0 home win in June.

For the love of all things soccer, don’t lose Horan on set pieces. She is dangerous in her runs and has scored far too many of her 11 goals this season on headers from set plays.

In open play, from the center of the field, Horan is a big part of Portland’s direct play as they try to get the ball up the field as quickly as possible. That’s typically done through long balls, often sent ahead after the Thorns cross over into their attacking half. While it doesn’t always make for the prettiest soccer, it’s been pretty effective for Portland — especially given the fact that Horan has a 61% success rate on long passes.

One thing that has helped Portland, and Horan in particular, is the play of Celeste Boureille in the holding midfield role. She stays home and protects the backline, allowing Horan to push higher up the field. While this is beneficial on the defensive end, Boureille rarely gets involved in the attack. This has hurt Portland at times, particularly when they are pushing for a goal late in a match. In those situations, Thorns coach Mark Parsons typically brings on Andressinha to possess the ball and push it forward.

The left side of the field is particularly dangerous, with Tobin Heath rounding into form after injury and Meghan Klingenberg making overlapping runs to whip crosses into the box. Sitting behind the lone striker, Christine Sinclair is skilled at finding and exploiting the smallest amounts of space. Many of her goals have been the result of quick give-and-go play with teammates or sneaking into the box for a pass or rebound.

Rivalry matches are always aggressive, and both teams like to put high amounts of pressure on opponents defensively. With even more on the line on Friday night, expect both teams to be a little, well, extra. While both teams already booked a trip to the playoffs, there’s still a lot on the line to conclude the regular season. At the end of the day, there’s no place like home — so let’s steal a point or three on the road and secure that home semifinal.

Quick Keys

  • Mark Lindsey Horan on set pieces
  • Use the wings, to take advantage of Portland’s outside backs pushing high up the field
  • Be prepared for crosses and long balls into the box

How to Watch

Date/Time: Friday, September 7 @ 7:00 PM

Location: Providence Park — Portland, Oregon

TV: Lifetime

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