One of the league’s best defenses in Reign FC will be taking on a red-hot offensive side in the Thorns, who have scored 31 goals in 15 matches. What makes them so effective? They have lethal goal-scorers and players who love to set them up consistently. Portland leads the league in shot conversion (20.3%) and ranks second in shooting accuracy, with 49% of their shots on target. This, despite the fact that the Thorns have the worst pass-completion rate in the league. They might not out-possess teams, but they’ve outscored plenty of them.
However, Portland can be contained — especially if Reign FC keep the ball and their players in front of them, which won’t be as difficult on the smaller Cheney Stadium field. The Reign held the Thorns scoreless in their first battle of the year, a 1-0 win in Portland on July 5 thanks to a Celia Jimenez Delgado goal. That game was played without the clubs’ U.S. players, and adding the likes of Allie Long, Lindsey Horan, and Tobin Heath into the equation for both the Reign and Thorns will make it a little more interesting.
Unfortunately for the Reign, Megan Rapinoe remains out of the lineup with Achilles inflammation. The team is being extra cautious with her recovery, as the injury is one that can flare up again easily.
That doesn’t mean Reign FC are without any attacking power. With both Jodie Taylor and Theresa Nielsen getting rested against Houston over the weekend, I expect to see one or both in the starting lineup to take on the Thorns. Taylor scored twice against the Thorns last year — a penalty kick in Portland and a last-minute game winner at home.
It should be close to a sellout crowd at Cheney Stadium for this midweek match, with plenty of Thorns supporters making the trip up for the clash.
What to Watch
Set the tone early: The Reign got out-dueled by the Thorns in their 2018 NWSL semifinal match. Fans know it. The players know it. The coaching staff knows it. They’re not going to want to let it happen again. Look for the Reign to set the tone of the game early, coming out hard to try to win the ball back. If done right, it could mean the Reign bag an early goal.
Create space along the frontline: The Thorns are strong defensively, but they are vulnerable when teams stretch and pull them out of position. Jodie Taylor makes smart runs in the attack to drag defenders and create holes for her teammates to fill in. They’re going to want to take quick advantage of her movement — or whoever starts up top — and pounce on those moments where Portland is disorganized.
Set pieces: Portland leads the league in crossing accuracy (27.7%) and corner kick accuracy (40.3%). According to the Thorns team notes, the team has scored 11 goals from set pieces, which leads the league. With speedy players like Hayley Raso taking the ball endline, the Thorns also lead the league in corner kick opportunities — a deadly combination given their accuracy numbers. The Reign will have to defend and clear the ball well in their box.
Christine Sinclair: Give Sinclair too much time on the ball, and she’s going to find something to do with it — whether that’s shoot or find a teammate. Sinclair is one of the smartest players in the game. She’s lethal in the box, while also being a skilled distributor — especially in tight spaces. The Reign are going to want to keep her close. And please, please, please close down on Sinclair if she collects the ball at the top of the box. She’s not going to miss from there often.
Meghan Klingenberg: At the start of the season, I would have told you the Reign should target the left side of Portland’s defense. Klingenberg didn’t have her best year in 2018, but she’s been one of the team’s most consistent players and currently leads the Thorns — and the league — with four assists. Klingenberg is relied upon for set pieces, where she’s often looking for the head of Lindsey Horan. She also likes to send in long balls from deeper up the field, rather than taking it endline. Look for her to cut the ball back to her right foot and loop balls into the box. She’s listed as questionable tonight with an illness, and if she doesn’t start the team will be hard pressed to find a like-for-like replacement.
Midge Purce: The Harvard graduate has stepped up for the Thorns over the last two months, filling in for the team’s World Cup players. Purce is a fast forward whose hold-up player is underrated. She doesn’t get bodied off the ball easily, allowing her to build play with her teammates. She could be even more ruthless in front of goal, but Purce already has six goals on the year and kept her starting spot even after the many Thorns World Cup players returned.
Absences: Injury, international duty and suspension
OUT: Jasmyne Spencer (SEI - Knee), Taylor Smith (SEI - Knee), Michelle Betos (SEI - Right Achilles), Jaycie Johnson (SEI - Right Knee), Scout Watson (SEI - Concussion), Jessica Fishlock (SEI - Left Knee), Lydia Williams (45D - L Ankle), Megan Rapinoe (L Achilles), Stephanie Cox (Right Calf), Rumi Utsugi (Left Calf)
OUT: Angela Salem (Left Knee), Madison Pogarch (Left Ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: Ellie Carpenter (Right Ankle), Meghan Klingenberg (Illness)
By the Numbers
7-2-6, 27 points | 31 goals for, 19 goals against
Christine Sinclair: 7 goals, 1 assist | Midge Purce: 6 goals, 1 assist
Adrianna Franch: 16 saves, 8 goals against, 2 clean sheets
6-3-5, 23 points | 13 goals for, 15 goals against
Bethany Balcer: 3 goals, 1 assist
Casey Murphy: 34 saves, 9 goals against, 4 clean sheets
Reign FC versus Portland Thorns kicks off at 7 p.m. PT on Wednesday, Aug. 7 at Cheney Stadium. The Cascadia clash will stream on Yahoo and the NWSL website for international fans. We’ll have a separate gamethread to discuss the match.