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Winners & Losers: Reign vs. Portland Thorns

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It took a village to get to the playoffs.

Nikita Taparia

Over the weekend, Reign FC took down their rivals, Portland Thorns FC, to secure a trip to the NWSL playoffs for the second year in a row. The 2-0 scoreline was thanks to an organized defensive approach and goals from Jodie Taylor and Bethany Balcer.

With a win in their final regular season match and a Portland draw or loss, Reign FC could finish as high as third — where they would face Chicago in the semifinals. A fourth-place finish would send them to North Carolina to take on the Courage.

Here are three winners and losers from the match.

Winners

It took a team to get to the playoffs. The first 4,000 fans at the match on Sunday received a team poster that, in the words of Megan Rapinoe, looked like a scroll. Reign FC owner Bill Predmore shared after the match that 32 different players were under contract this year due to injuries and World Cup call-ups. Another four were signed as temporary replacement players, which meant 36 players showed up in the 18 for at least one match. THIRTY. SIX.

Every individual contributed to this team’s season, and it all culminated with a playoff-securing win over rivals Portland Thorns FC. This team didn’t make the playoffs because of individual stars — it was a total team effort, one that was on display when the team took down both Utah and Portland this week.

Unsurprisingly, Megan Rapinoe is making this team a lot more dangerous. While Rapinoe admitted a week ago that she was still getting back to full match fitness, she looked like the star we’ve come to expect in the first half against the Thorns. Pinoe was whipping perfect balls into the box from the left flank. The team wasn’t able to connect on them, but having that threat back on the field makes the Reign a lot harder to defend. Their attack is dynamic and can take advantage of opponent weaknesses. It is no surprise Jodie Taylor is starting to heat up since Rapinoe’s arrival — she’s finding new space she wasn’t getting previously.

Midfield dominance. While they might not show up big on the box score, the Reign FC midfield did well to control the match and keep Portland’s midfield in check. In particular, the Reign won 54% of all duels while also leading in possession, shots taken, and obviously goals. Kristen McNabb, in particular, was a brick wall — winning every challenge that came in her direction and helping the team calmly keep possession. The midfield dominance allowed the Reign front line to be more aggressive in pressing the Thorns defense into mistake — something that resulted in multiple strong chances for the team.

Losers

We hope Lindsey Horan is okay. Thorns midfielder Lindsey Horan went down three different times in the match. The first was in a 50/50 challenge with Allie Long in the first half. In the second half, Horan went down again after turning away from another 50/50 challenge. She received treatment, where she looked to be in tons of pain and was holding her calf. While she re-entered play and appeared to be doing okay, the game continued to be physical — including her taking a foul by Steph Catley in the 83rd minute. Still, Mark Parsons kept Horan in for the rest of the game (they were out of subs before Balcer’s second goal).

Then, near the 90th minute, Horan went hard on a challenge when Kristen McNabb had the ball. In the collision, Horan’s head slammed into the ground and she had to be stretchered off the field. The team didn’t have anything to share immediately following the match on her status, but Horan did share a small update on Monday.

Horan is a key player for the Thorns and we hope it isn’t anything serious, but we were as surprised as everyone following the match that the team kept her in. It felt like an unnecessary risk.

The early start time. The match was moved from 1 PM to 11 AM when ESPN picked up the game. The bonus was that the Reign finally got to host an ESPN match — something they never got at Memorial Stadium — but the adjusted time resulted in a bit of disjointed play and some empty seats on camera. The match had been sold out for awhile, which means plenty of people bought and elected not to use their tickets. While the atmosphere was still electric for the rivalry match, in part thanks to traveling support from Thorns supporters, it would have been even louder with a few extra filled seats. The price you pay for defeating your rivals on national TV, I suppose.

What happened to Portland’s attack? The Thorns scored exactly one goal in four games during the month of September. In July, this team led the league in goals scored and goal differential. They looked unstoppable. But the attack has struggled to figure it out. Frankly, the team looks tired. That doesn’t come as a particular surprise, as most of the team’s attacking players pushed themselves to the limits at the World Cup. While the Reign have been able to rotate their starters — both by necessity and because of tactical switches — the Thorns haven’t done the same. It feels like they are paying for it, at the worst possible time. We’re not necessarily complaining.