SEATTLE — It is often a bit of a sports cliche to say that a player “took over the match,” but that is exactly what Megan Rapinoe did for Seattle Reign FC on Saturday evening. Facing the Portland Thorns — in the team’s third match in seven days — Rapinoe’s two goals and relentless pressure earned a critical 2-0 victory for Seattle.
The win put the Reign into third place on the NWSL league table, and extended Seattle’s undefeated streak at home to 13 matches. Rapinoe’s two goals also kept her at the top of the league for goals scored. She now has nine in 12 matches.
None probably felt as good as the two she scored Saturday against Portland, though.
For the first 45 minutes of the match, it was a more mellow back and forth affair, as both teams had a few good chances on goal, but nothing felt particularly dangerous. Seattle and Portland’s centerbacks were both up to the task of keeping their opponents outside the box, and forcing them into low-chance shots.
But Seattle’s forwards continued to press, and just before halftime they were able to force Portland’s defense into a costly mistake. Emily Sonnett got what looked to be a simple ball along the backline, and turned to play it back to goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. Not seeing Rapinoe charging forward, Sonnett sent a soft pass to Franch, who tried to come out for a last-ditch clearance. Fortunately for the Reign, Rapinoe got there first — sliding on the turf to tap the ball into the left corner.
Rapinoe finished the play by pointing to the Reign crest on her jersey and running toward the sideline to celebrate with Laura Harvey and the bench.
46+ - #SEA Goal - Against the run of play, Megan Rapinoe scores to give @ReignFC a 1-0 lead. #SEAvPOR pic.twitter.com/6nnJgA5NQ0— NWSL (@NWSL) July 2, 2017
In the second half, as Portland pushed for an equalizer, the game opened up even more, and Rapinoe was up for the challenge. She consistently got in behind central-midfielder-turned-right-back Dagny Brynjarsdóttir and managed five shots on target for the Reign.
Rapinoe had to wait until the 81st minute for her second goal, which came thanks to a fantastic ball from midfielder Christine Nairn. The moment Nairn collected the ball near half, Rapinoe started sprinting toward goal. Nairn launched it to Rapinoe in space, and she volleyed it to the far post past Franch.
81' - #SEA Goal - What a strike by Megan Rapinoe off the half volley. @ReignFC with a two goal advantage. #SEAvPOR pic.twitter.com/pACimtdYBy— NWSL (@NWSL) July 2, 2017
The Thorns might have won the possession battle, and certainly had a few strong looks on goal — including a Lindsay Horan shot in the 66th minute that Haley Kopmeyer had to scramble to save — but Portland managed just three shots on target the entire match. The Reign backline did a good job limiting Portland’s build-up, earning their first shutout at home this season.
It wasn’t just the goals for Pinoe, either. She was all over the field defensively — sometimes popping up in the center to break up a play, or covering on the right. Her pressure was as intense in minute 90 as it was to start the game. That she did this after playing two full matches earlier in the week makes her performance all the more impressive.
“From a physical level, this is the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been,” Rapinoe said after the match. She credits her focus on strength training this offseason for getting her through this tough three-match week.
For Reign FC head coach Laura Harvey, Rapinoe’s play is indicative of how Seattle is performing as a team right now — with a lot of grit, energy, and desire to do whatever is needed to win.
“We look like Seattle Reign currently. We feel like a team that wants to play for each other,” Harvey said after the match. “With everything that’s gone into this week, I always said that I was glad to have Portland last because it’s just that extra adrenaline, and extra bite around the game, and I think that’s what drove us through.”
While Seattle gritted out another win at home, the squad suffered a significant loss in the 33rd minute, when midfielder Jess Fishlock landed awkwardly after colliding mid-air with Thorns midfielder Amandine Henry. She had to be carried off the field and subbed out, while trainers looked at her left knee. After the match, Harvey said that Fishlock would be getting a scan on Sunday, but the team didn’t believe it was as bad as everyone initially feared.
The team hopes to continue their momentum into next weekend, when they face the top-ranked North Carolina Courage on the road. But they’ve earned some well-deserved rest first.