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Valkyratings: Neither teeth nor Thorns edition

It was a fairly uninspiring performance, which was admittedly a big step up from the week before.

Last Updated
11 min read
Reign defender Ryanne Brown lines up a cross as she fends off a challenge by a Thorns player in June 2024.
Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

Sometimes, you don’t need a vintage performance. You don’t need a take-on-all-comers, belief-restoring, barn-burning win. Sometimes you just need to not give up five goals. Sometimes you just need to staunch the bleeding.

So, look, nobody’s going to point at the Reign, halfway through the season, and say they’re a great team – or even a good team. Nobody’s going to point at that Cascadia Clash and name it an all-time classic or a season-defining performance. They’ve vacillated between mediocrity and disaster, given up monumentally stupid goals on mistakes these players and this roster are not used to making, failed to find their teeth basically ever. They’ve settled for no points when a point was up for grabs, and settled for one point when three were right there on the table (and they did it yet again since this post was written...)

And it would, frankly, be a bit of a miracle for them to turn it around at this point.

So even though it was hardly a classic, denying the Portland Thorns two points when we could’ve just as easily folded all over again? Sometimes it's the small things. And if those two dropped points maybe, just maybe, fuck things up a little for Portland come season’s end, well, sometimes the small things can bring you a smile even in the hard and harrowing years.

We’re still holding for a miracle. Hay fe or whatevs. But for right now, we’re gonna enjoy the small things for a few minutes.


Claudia Dickey – 6

The good. Claudia Dickey is back and ready to make opponents talk to the claw, and after a rough injury early in the season, that’s a Good all on its own. She showed her quality distribution, comfort coming off her line, and ability to mix it up in the air.

The bad. I honestly did not have a single negative note on her during my rewatch. Her positions were good, her passing was great, and she made the one save she was asked to make.

Going forward. Laurel Ivory may have better reflexes, but Dickey is composed and comfortable on the ball in a way Ivory just isn’t, and takes command of her area in a way that was sorely missed over the past few matches.


Sofia Huerta – 6

The good. The best chance of the first half for the Reign started with a Sofia Huerta corner service in the 21st minute — a good delivery found Jordyn Huitema, who headed it along, but Ryanne Brown couldn’t do much of anything with the ensuing loose ball. Arguably the best chance of the second half for the Reign came in the 72nd minute off a Huerta cross that Huitema took on the volley, and saw harmlessly blocked.

The bad. Between that 21st minute corner and 76th minute cross, Huerta didn’t have much impact in the attack. While her choices in possession were mostly good, one of the few real errors the Reign made all match was from her and led to a good chance for the Th*rns.

Going forward. When we give Huerta the opportunity to put in better service, she’s putting in better service, but despite the Reign having some good moments, they gave her few opportunities. And good lord, somebody please finish one of her services so she can get that assist record!

Phoebe McClernon – 7 (POTM)

The good. Eight blocks, four clearances, a tackle, and an interception were instrumental in keeping the much-needed clean sheet for the Reign, and her 98 touches led all players as she took control of the back line and said this far and no further. 36th and 37th minute blocks kept the Th*rns from creating any danger out of two big chances. Getting a rare start at ostensibly her best position, Phoebe turned in one of the best centerback performances the Reign have had on the year.

The bad. A nervy giveaway in the first minute amounted to nothing, and was ultimately smothered, but could have put the Reign behind — again — right from the starting gun.

Going forward. With Alana Cook continuing to struggle with injuries and finding her form and Lu Barnes giving up a step too frequently to recover from like she used to, Phoebe has a good argument for being the best CB on the roster. Maybe we should play her there.

Lauren Barnes – 6

The good. A less active (63 touches, the fewest on her back line except for Brown, who subbed out after 75 minutes) Lu Barnes was also a more effective Lu than we’ve seen in the past few matches. Her two tackles and seven clearances went a long way to keeping the Th*rns out of the Reign’s penalty area.

The bad. After Lu (and several other defenders) were carved out in the 36th minute, Phoebe McClernon had to clean up what could’ve been the opening goal.

Going forward. This was a better performance, but I’d still rather see how the back looks without Barnes. Even if she’s better the rest of the season, we still really need to know what we have for the future, and what our best pairing is without her.

Ryanne Brown – 6 (off 76’ for Shae Holmes)

The good. Brown wasn’t afraid to get in the mixer, with three shots. Her five interceptions led the team, as she pushed the issue defensively and helped the Reign win the ball back in good positions. A 52nd minute yellow card was probably undeserved, and came after she won the ball rather than ceding possession, with the sort of grit and commitment to the play the Reign have sometimes (often) lacked this year.

The bad. With all respect to a solid game by a good player, Ryanne Brown is generally not the player you want leading your team in shots.

Going forward. Left back has been an enigma for the Reign and Brown has struggled to find minutes, but there’s a lot to suggest that Phoebe at CB and Ryanne at LB solves at least a couple of the team's ongoing problems.


Quinn – 5 (off 45’ for Olivia van der Jagt)

The good. Quinn started and was back on the field! The quality they bring on both sides of the ball has been sorely missed. Five passes into the final third were good for the team lead, despite playing just half the match.

The bad. Quinn was obviously not back up to full fitness yet, and they faded into obscurity as the first half carried on, ultimately subbing off at halftime.

Going forward. They need more time to get back up to game speed, but even with limited minutes and limited legs, Quinn gave a reminder of what the Reign have been missing in their extended absence.

Ji So-yun – 6 (off 89’ for Olivia Athens)

The good. Leading the team with eight progressive passes and three shot-creating actions, Ji found her best play in the last half hour, the best of it coming in the 64th minute, when she won the ball back with good pressure and then cut into the box to set up Bethany Balcer for a chance in the area. She was tidy in possession and surprisingly effective in holding up play for Huitema and Veronica Latsko to run onto.

The bad. There was a lot of decent play but nothing that actually changed the balance of the game. It’s becoming a recurring theme that Ji holds the ball too long waiting for someone to make the run she wants. She was basically invisible between the 30th and 45th minute in particular, as the Th*rns asserted themselves and had a few decent chances.

Going forward. A force multiplier with few forces to multiply for most of the season, Ji So-yun should continue to benefit from the return of Jordyn Huitema (and, perhaps, the arrival of Nérilia Mondésir), but she also needs to release the ball faster, build some rapport outside of Jess Fishlock, and make a difference on her own more often.

Jess Fishlock – 6

The good. Her two interceptions and two tackles won were all key contributions to a team-wide effort that limited a ruthless Portland attack to just two real chances and a largely toothless overall effort.

The bad. Zero carries, passes into, or touches in the attacking penalty area and no shots until the end of the game, when she took two speculative, long-distance efforts, neither of which provided any danger.

Going forward. Fishlock never quits and never says die, and carries the team in a way nobody else really can, but — as ever — she needs more support than she’s getting.


Bethany Balcer – 6 (off 89’ for Emeri Adames)

The good. Playing in a facilitating role, asked to draw out the centerbacks and create space for Huitema and Latsko to run onto, Balcer did a lot of the hard work to try to make things happen. She showed some flair as a distributor, with two key passes, one that Jordyn Huitema couldn’t keep on target in the 44th minute, and one that Ryanne Brown couldn’t keep on target in the 63rd. Her usual dominant self in the air, she went into three aerial duels and won them all as she was generally effective both helping the Reign hold up and press.

The bad. Balcer took one shot and couldn’t put it on frame — a better strike in the 64th minute might’ve changed the game.

Going forward. Balcer can play just about any role she’s asked to on the front line, but you will never convince me this is her best utilization. Give Boats space to run onto and give her crosses to challenge for in dangerous places.

Jordyn Huitema – 6

The good. The 43rd, 44th, and 72nd minutes all saw Huitema take a shot from a good position, though only the 43rd minute demanded anything of Th*rns goalkeeper Shelby Hogan. Jordyn led all players with five touches in the attacking penalty area, and in a mostly toothless match, created a fair bit of danger just by getting to the right places.

The bad. Huitema went into six aerial duels and lost five of them. She’s tall, physically gifted, and has big hops, and needs to translate that into being an actual aerial threat at some point. A better go in the 43rd minute could’ve seen the Reign take all three points.

Going forward. This wasn’t a high-danger match by any means, but Huitema’s multiple tools unlock a ton of options that the Reign have been missing. If she can add more consistent scoring to her repertoire, she can be a star.

Veronica Latsko – 5 (off 62’ for Tziarra King)

The good. Latsko had three interceptions in good positions, and was a positive addition to the Reign’s team press and effort to keep a dangerous Th*rns team in front of them.

The bad. Latsko ran hard, but didn’t provide much beyond running hard. Her passing was often a bit questionable, she took zero shots, and she had zero shot-creating actions.

Going forward. This performance did nothing to change my view that Latsko’s best position is as a last half-hour energy and chaos injection.


Olivia van der Jagt – 5 (on 45’ for Quinn)

The good. Olo came on at the half to spell a fading Quinn and added some sandpaper to the middle of the pitch, with two tackles, two interceptions, four aerial duels won, and three recoveries in a short stint.

The bad. Olo came on at the half to spell a fading Quinn and added a lot of not much going forward, often failing to find the open woman with her passing and rarely getting involved in later stages of buildup.

Going forward. We know what Olo brings, and we know where she shines. This was a good use of her abilities, and she remains a solid choice to hold down the middle of the pitch in a pinch.

Tziarra King – 5 (on 62’ for Veronica Latsko)

The good. Zee came on for Latsko and provided some immediate offensive spark, buzzing high up the right wing and combining well with her teammates. In a half-hour of game time, she tied for the team lead in shot-creating actions, and showed good understanding and connection with Fishlock, Huitema, Balcer, and Ji.

The bad. Zee provided some immediate offensive spark, but couldn’t will it into a goal.

Going forward. She’s been showing better lately, with decent starts and substitute appearances alike. With the Reign still struggling to score, Tziarra King seems a likely candidate for more minutes going forward.

Shae Holmes – 4 (on 76’ for Ryanne Brown)

The good. Holmes didn’t make any egregious mistakes, and in 15-plus minutes, threw down two blocks, two tackles, and a good carry out of danger to help the Reign keep the clean sheet.

The bad. 1 for 10 passing is pretty, pretty, pretty dire, especially for a defender.

Going forward. This was not a good outing for Shae, and a couple messy, disorganized showings in a row put something of a damper on the Just Play Shae movement.

Emeri Adames – N/A (on 89’ for Bethany Balcer)

The good. In extremely limited minutes, Emeri Adames completed both of her passes, and even found the ball once in the attacking penalty area.

The bad. Given just stoppage time to try to make a difference, Adames could not.

Going forward. Give Adames real minutes.

Olivia Athens – N/A (on 89’ for Ji So-yun)

The good. In extremely limited minutes, Olivia Athens completed all seven of her passes, helping keep the midfield calm and composed. While Fishlock’s 37 yard scorcher to nowhere wasn’t much of a chance, Athens technically had a shot-creating action leading up to it.

The bad. Given just stoppage time to try to make a difference, Athens could not.

Going forward. Athens is a great sub to keep things under control or get them back under control, though she shouldn’t be expected to alter a game much entering in the 89th minute.


Alyssa Nichols – 4

The good. Alyssa Nichols mostly controlled the game just fine, keeping the teams playing whenever possible, and used her cards to keep things under control.

The bad. The Th*rns’ best chance of the game came directly off an uncalled foul, and had they scored, it would’ve been on VAR to correct it. A 52nd minute yellow card shown to Ryanne Brown seemed a response to the outcome, rather than the play. Ji So-yun got jabbed in the eye without a call. Huitema had a good shout for a penalty, but VAR decided to choose cowardice. On multiple occasions, Th*rns players left a boot, a shoulder, or an elbow in when challenging goalkeeper Claudia Dickey, and the way Dickey was categorically not protected at any point after any instance of such extracurricular hits looms large just a few weeks removed from Balcer seeing yellow for the opposing keeper running into her own defender.

The inexplicable. Despite having less stoppage than literally any other game in NWSL this season, she still found 11 minutes of second-half stoppage time hiding in her pockets somewhere.

Going forward. I would, actually, still take how Alyssa Nichols handled this match over the vast majority of PRO performances we’ve seen in Reign matches this year, which is not strong praise for Nichols so much as deep exhaustion with just how bad it’s been.

A Stray Thought

With 13 matches to go — the longest-ever NWSL season — and a margin between last and first that’s still narrow enough that anybody could get back in it if they found their feet for the right stretch of games, the Reign aren’t actually out of the picture. And with the sale finally — fucking finally! — actually concluded, the Reign are already lining up intriguing moves for when the transfer window opens. And with the availability report finally — oh my god, FUCKING finally — not showing half a dozen or more names, they’re getting healthy and might finally get a chance to get reps together to try to build some real continuity.

It’s a small, thin chance. But it’s a fucking chance.

My socks say BE BOLD. My scarf says I BELIEVE.

I absolutely refuse to make a liar of them.

At the time of this writing, the Reign were moments away from kicking off their next match, at home against Racing Louisville. Unfortunately, it once again went Not Great, as we found a new utterly infuriating way to drop points we should've had in hand.

Regardless of that, Go Reign. For the Crown. Let’s just smash everybody. Twelve matches left in the season means 36 more points still up for grabs.