On Saturday, May 6, Seattle Reign FC (1-1-1) heads down the I-5 corridor for its only road match against the Portland Thorns FC (2-1-0) during the 2017 NWSL regular season. The match kicks off at 7 p.m. PT and will broadcast live on the go90 streaming platform. Fans can also watch the game at the Atlantic Crossing.
Last season, Seattle’s southern neighbors found themselves at the top of the table at the end of the regular season, winning the NWSL Shield. Reign FC, meanwhile, struggled with inconsistent play throughout the year, and fell just short of a third straight berth in the playoffs.
Seattle has carried that inconsistency into the start of this season. A win on the road against their rivals could help remove a thorn from their side and give the team some confidence heading into a home match next weekend against a struggling Washington Spirit side.
A Thorny Offense
Without an injured Tobin Heath, Portland has struggled offensively. The Thorns have scored just three goals in three matches, and two of those came from penalties. Surprisingly, their midfield — on paper, one of the best in the league — has been one of the key reasons for their scoring woes.
While the midfield trio of Allie Long, Lindsay Horan, and Amandine Henry combined for 143 passes in Portland’s opening 2-0 win against the Orlando Pride, that same midfield had just 84 passes in week 2 against the North Carolina Courage, who were effective as a team at pressuring the ball quickly and limiting passes into the center. In addition, many of those passes from Long and Henry came from deep in Portland’s defensive half.
Last week, Chicago was also fairly effective at cutting off balls into the midfield and forcing Portland to play out wide, where the speedy Hayley Raso got some good looks, but couldn’t find that final ball or shot. An unfortunate handball on a corner kick was the only reason the Red Stars were unable to shut out Portland at Providence Park.
If Seattle wants to squash Portland’s chances, they’ll need to maintain high pressure throughout the match and limit balls into the midfield.
Let the Goals Reign
Seattle has had its own offensive woes. Aside from their 5-1 thrashing of Houston, Reign FC has scored just one goal — a penalty kick against Sky Blue. Thorns coach Mark Parsons certainly knew how to limit Seattle’s chances last season, and if the early Portland matches this season are any indication, he will likely roll out a similar approach on Saturday.
Because Seattle is a possession-focused team that relies on its midfield, the Thorns defensive approach asks its forwards to drop off defenders, sitting right in front of the opposing team’s midfield. Portland’s defensive line, meanwhile, pushes high — squishing the field of play and daring teams to test them with balls over the top.
North Carolina, with its speed and quick midfield play, was able to unlock this fairly easily, but Seattle doesn’t rely on speed up top. The Reign will instead need to rely on quick passing and, perhaps, some more direct play mixed in at key times, if they hope to get through Portland’s stingy defense.
There is another way to get a goal against this Portland side: the Thorns backline and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch have shown they can fold under pressure. Laura Harvey’s defend-from-the-front approach could force some mistakes from the backline and lead to turnovers in dangerous spots. If so, Reign FC has to take advantage of those opportunities. It would benefit Seattle to come out with some significant pressure early to prevent the Portland defense from getting settled.
It is always difficult to predict how each team in this budding rivalry will perform, but one thing is certain: when Reign FC travel to Providence Park, it is always a lively, exciting, and physical affair. If Seattle sticks to its game plan, there’s good reason to believe they can return with three points.
Thorns: OUT: Tobin Heath (back strain), Katherine Reynolds (left groin strain), Dagny Brynjarsdottir (back sprain), Mana Shim (left foot sprain)
Reign: OUT: Larissa Crummer (right foot fracture), Diana Matheson (left ACL tear), Christine Nairn (excused absence)
Date/Time: Saturday, May 6, 7 p.m. PT
Location: Providence Park, Portland, Oregon
This is your Reign FC gamethread. Watch and discuss with us.