For years, Portland has focused most of their resources on a high-quality attack, relying on unrelenting pressure to wear down opponents and outscore them. In particular, Canadian international Christine Sinclair is lethal at the tip of their attack, where she often likes to drop into the space between an opponent’s defense and midfield and get onto the end of diagonal balls to the top of the box. The Reign responded to this threat by playing a 4-1-4-1 in defense, with Jess Fishlock occupying a stopper-like role and covering that space.
After Fishlock’s injury, Seattle shifted to a 4-2-3-1 to provide sufficient defensive cover and to effectively clog Portland’s attacking channels. The tactics were effective — although Portland enjoyed an advantage in possession and attempted nearly 100 more passes, they had only three shots on target.
Haley Kopmeyer (7; 3 saves) – Considering the threat Portland poses in attack, Kopmeyer had a reasonably easy game thanks to the quality work of her defense. Of the three saves she was tasked with making, two were routine shots from distance, although the third was a highlight reel save of a point-blank shot by Lindsey Horan after a bad defensive touch, which required good positional awareness and quick reflexes. Beyond those saves, Kopmeyer did well to command her box and also had two quality punches of potentially dangerous Thorns set pieces. The only reason her rating isn’t higher is that she simply wasn’t tested further and asked to do anything all-star caliber in earning her second clean sheet of the season.
Carson Pickett (7) – Pickett had one shaky moment early in the game when Hayley Raso got behind her and was able to send in a cross from the corner, but after that Portland rarely had any effective build-up play in attack on her side of the field. Aside from the substitutes, Raso ended with the fewest touches of any Thorns player, and when she did get the ball Pickett pressured her into a lot of poor passes or blocked crosses. Pickett’s biggest shortcoming remains her own passing accuracy – her 59% success rate was a full 10 percentage points lower than anyone else in the Reign back line or midfield.
Lauren Barnes (8) – Barnes and the entire Reign defense did very well to stymie Portland and deny them many good opportunities, and the backline showed much improved organization and consistency throughout the match. Most notably, in the 55th minute Portland had a scoring opportunity off a diagonal cross through the box which had eerie parallels to the far post goals scored by Kansas City and Chicago in recent matches, but in this situation the entire Reign defense stepped up in unison and put Mana Shim offside. Barnes also blocked numerous crosses and shots and cleared pressure very well.
Even with Portland’s attackers often applying high pressure, Seattle shifted back to possessing out of the backfield in this game, and Barnes was a huge part of why that was successful. Her passing rate was down this match (73%), but she did a lot more playmaking in this match, especially after Fishlock’s injury, and created three chances with well-placed long passes up to attackers. Barnes’ only major negative in the game was a horrendous pass in the 24th minute that went straight to Christine Sinclair for a 1-v-1 chance which fortunately came to naught.
Kristen McNabb (7; caution 77’) – Like her defensive partner, McNabb bossed the Reign box and supported her teammates in defense. She calmly faced down Christine Sinclair in the aforementioned 1-v-1 chance, positioning herself well to prevent Sinclair from making a move to get past her, and then patiently waiting until Sinclair opened up her dribble before reaching in to kick the ball clear.
McNabb had two notable negatives on the night. The first came in the 66th minute when Portland put a weak cross into the box that Kopmeyer looked ready to smother, but McNabb stuck her leg out and mishit the ball, sending it straight to Lindsey Horan for Portland’s best scoring opportunity of the game. The second was on her ill-advised challenge to Adrianna Franch, which resulted in a caution.
Rebekah Stott (7) – After struggling mightily during the team’s long, hot road trip, Stott really seems to have caught up to the pace of play in the past week, and she put in yet another good performance this game. Portland strongly preferred to attack down her side, and she was up to the task, showing excellent positioning and making good choices about when to step forward and pressure more aggressively versus dropping back to contain and wait for support. She also drew an impressive four fouls. She had one shaky moment in the 34th minute when she intercepted a Thorns cross and nearly redirected it into her own goal, but thankfully no Portland attackers were nearby and she was able to recover and clear the ball.
Lindsay Elston (7) – It’s a recurring theme here, but Elston has grown into the starting role she’s held for the past four games. She did well to disrupt play and intercept balls in the midfield, especially after Fishlock’s injury, and showed good awareness to quickly switch the point of attack or find teammates for outlet passes, rather than getting caught in possession like she struggled with early in the season. Her 82% pass completion rate also tied her season high.
Jess Fishlock (incomplete; off 33’) – From the opening whistle it was clear that Fishlock’s task in this game was to disrupt the Portland midfield and deny them channels to pass the ball forward and start attacks. In defense she was also situated just above the Reign center backs, occupying the space that Christine Sinclair likes to drop into to receive diagonal balls. She did well in both of these tasks for the first 30 minutes, before a fluke knee injury on an aerial challenge abruptly ended her night.
Christine Nairn (8; assist 81’) – As Laura Harvey noted in her postgame comments, the team finally “looks like Seattle Reign”, and Nairn has been a big part of that in midfield. Her two-way play has improved dramatically, and her contributions in defense have been at least as important as her actions going forward. Her effort getting back to help defend was stellar, and she was a big part of why Seattle controlled the midfield for much of the game. This match she was often tasked with marking Amandine Henry and helped keep her to just one off-target shot.
In attack, Nairn’s service has been excellent. Although she was only credited with one chance created on the night, she sent a number of quality long balls over the Thorns defense and onto the foot of Reign attackers. The highlight of the night was definitely her assist, which was placed perfectly to land in front of Rapinoe to strike in stride.
Beverly Yanez (5; off 64’) – As it became evident that Portland’s right flank was their weak spot, Yanez saw less and less of the action as Seattle shifted their attack almost exclusively to that side of the field. Instead, Bev spent most of her time dropping back to support Rebekah Stott as Meghan Klingenberg and Mana Shim often pushed forward together trying to overload that side. Just before subbing off Yanez had her best attacking opportunity of the game, getting on the end of a Megan Rapinoe cross. Her first shot was blocked, then she picked up her own rebound but put the shot straight at Franch.
Merritt Mathias (5; off 83’) – Portland has never been known for their stellar defense, and Mathias had one job in this game — to harass and hound them into mistakes. She particularly targeted Emily Sonnett, which paid dividends late in the first half when Sonnett’s poor back pass was picked off by Megan Rapinoe. Beyond pressuring the defense, Mathias had two shots, although neither reached goal. Her passing also left something to be desired, with only a 47% completion rate.
Megan Rapinoe (10; goals 45+1’ & 81’; PotM) – We’re running out of superlatives to describe Megan Rapinoe’s performances. Her first goal was entirely about grit and chasing every play, and she was rewarded by being in the right spot to seize the opportunity when Emily Sonnett’s back pass went awry. Her second was a more traditional goal, but one that required a massive amount of skill in order to get past her defender, hit the ball on the half-volley, and strike it with enough precision and velocity to beat Franch on the far side. It’s the type of goal that often wins goal of the week, although this week was filled with spectacular goals.
Portland opted to use an attacking midfielder, Dagný Brynjarsdóttir, as their right back, and Rapinoe feasted on her and Sonnett all night. Numerous times, Rapinoe would receive a pass while under pressure, and more often than not she was successful in dribbling out of the pressure and doing something spectacular. In the 84th minute she nearly scored a third in such a scenario, when she beat Brynjarsdóttir on the dribble and cut in, but her shot was straight at Franch. She ended with a season-high seven shots (five on goal), and also created three chances for her teammates.
Her set pieces also continue to be great, and it’s been unlucky that one hasn’t resulted in a recent goal. In the 17th minute she nearly snuck a free kick inside the near post, and her corner kicks were also dangerous all night.
Rumi Utsugi (8; on 33’) – Having just returned from a leg injury, Utsugi was likely not expecting to have any major impact on this game. However, Jess Fishlock’s injury forced Laura Harvey’s hand, and Rumi entered the game with virtually no warm-up time but looked completely comfortable and in control from her very first touch. On only her third touch of the game she sent a beautiful looping through ball up to Rapinoe, whose shot arced just wide. Late in the first half she lost track of Christine Sinclair, who was able to get a quality shot from about 25 yards out that streaked just wide, but after that Sinclair was limited to weak chances.
Early in the second half, she picked up a rebound off a Reign free kick and surprised the entire Thorns defense with a fizzing 20 yard shot that careened off the outside of the post. On defense she was a disruptor, intercepting passes and challenging for every ball that came within 20 yards of her, including a Fishlock-quality tackle and takeaway combo in the 79th minute. She ended the night with four tackles, and if not for Megan Rapinoe’s other-worldly performance, might have been in the running for player of the match honors.
Nahomi Kawasumi (incomplete, on 64’) – I was a little surprised not to see Naho start this game, but when she did finally enter she injected some fresh pace and energy to the proceedings. Although nominally coming on as a forward, she did most of her work in the midfield, intercepting several balls and switching the point of attack.
Katie Johnson (incomplete; on 83’) – Johnson was a very late sub, spelling Merritt Mathias and chasing the Thorns defense around the field for the final 7 minutes.
Jon Freemon (7) – I was a bit concerned going into this game, as Freemon had only officiated three prior NWSL matches and had issued red cards in two of them. Thankfully, Freemon did a good job calling what could have been a difficult derby game. He showed good awareness of when to give players warnings for persistent infringement, and wasn’t afraid to go to his book as the game got more physical toward the end. My only minor criticism was that he played several advantages in the final few minutes, including one where he later went back and cautioned Hayley Raso, when it might have been more beneficial to stop play and settle the game even if there was a nominal advantage.
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