All things considered, tonight would be a fantastic night for the Seattle Reign to turn around their season. That winless record is wearing a little thin through 7 games and tonight is the biggest home match of the season since the opener. Coming to town is the Portland Thorns, featuring the most dynamic (and arguably best) player in the women's game — Alex Morgan, who so recently was wearing Sounder green — and currently sitting tied on top of the standings. And tonight marks the return of Hope Solo, our premier US allocated player — sidelined up to now with a wrist injury. Though Michele Betos and Haley Kopmeyer haven't done a poor job deputizing for the Seattle legend, just her presence should be enough to help solidify a defense that will need all the help it can get.
The relatively close proximity to Portland and their somewhat artificial status as our designated league rivals is enough to ensure that there will be some away fan representation tonight. And with the Rose City Riveters being by far the largest Supporters Group in the league that could mean 80-100 away supporters trying to dominate the atmosphere. That could (and should) be taken as a challenge to the local soccer support. The lure of the Thorns should be enough to inflate attendance numbers that had flagged over the last two home matches. And importantly, Sounders supporters group Gorilla FC have pledged to bolster the numbers of the Reign's Royal Guard, which may give them a chance to match the Riveters for volumne.
On the field, there will be challenges. Besides Morgan, the Thorns boast another top 5 world forward in Christine Sinclair. Trying to stop them will be a patchwork defensive line thanks to the red card to Jenny Ruiz at center back in the last match (herself playing out of position) and the ongoing injuries to captain Kate Deines and Elli Reed. We're likely to see a reprise of Kaylyn Kyle at center back, where she had a decent game last week but was frequently terrorized by Washington forward Lisa De Vanna. And partnering her will likely be co-Canadian Emily Zurrer, who looks to have been benched over the last few weeks until injury and ejections forced her into service.
Still, the Thorns boast a very good midfield built around Jessica Fishlock. In the last match between the teams in Portland, Fishlock scored a late goal to close the game to a tense 2-1. But her primary role is in defensive midfield, where she's a hard tackler and can be focused on disrupting Portland's potent attack. Next to her, Keelin Winters has returned from an injury to deepen the midfield further.
Their major issue remains in the attack. They've scored only 4 goals in 7 matches this season and outside of occasional vibrant 10 minute runs, they have never looked consistently dangerous. Against Portland, a scoreless draw seems very unlikely, so if they want to get points tonight, they will need to find a way to score.
If they can do that and turn the season around against the toughest team in the league on Solo's debut in front of a large crowd, we might see the beginning of the emergence of this team as a factor in NWSL. . just a month or so later than when we thought we'd see it.