For the second time this season, Cascadian rivals Portland Thorns and Seattle Reign will face off, this time at StarfireStadium in Tukwila, Washington.  The Thorns come in having earned their third shutout in five matches, defeating the Washington Spirit 2-0 on goals by forwards Christine Sinclair (41’) and Alex Morgan (86’), while the Reign continued to struggle, falling 3-0 to Sky Blue FC.

In their first meeting of the season, Seattle and Portland played each other evenly for nearly the entirety of first half, before Thorns defender Marian Dougherty scored off a free kick from midfielder Nikki Washington just before the break, sending the record-crowd of 16,479 at JELD-Wen Field into a frenzy heading into halftime.  The Thorns would again score early in the second half as Sinclair found Morgan at the top of the box to score her first goal of the season in the 52nd minute, while Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock would bring her team one back in the 73rd minute, but that would be all the scoring for either side as Portland won 2-1.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns had an interesting couple of matches last week, where they played level with Sky Blue FC for 80 minutes before a perfectly placed shot sent them to their first loss of the season on Thursday.  Then on Sunday, they defeated the Washington Spirit 2-0, though the match never truly felt settled until Morgan put it out of reach late in the match.  In both these matches, the Thorns looked tired and discombobulated at times, especially in the Spirit match, which is understandable when they played 3 matches in week.

With nearly a week off, the Thorns should be able to come outwell rested and inspired in this derby match, facing a team with a backline decimated by injury and suspension and has allowed a league-leading 15 goals through 7 matches, including 7 goals in the past two matches, for an average of more than 2 goals a match. The Thorns have scored a league-leading 11 goals, with an attack led by Morgan and Sinclair, who have scored 7 goals between them, the Thorns will look to add to their goal total and return to their previous form.

For the Thorns to have success, they will need to take control of the match early, especially in the midfield, and sustain the attack while guarding against the counter.  While the Reign havestruggled all season, teams often play to a different level in rivalry games and Fishlock proved to be quite the challenge for the Thorns to contain.  The Thorns cannot afford to take the Reign lightly, even with players missing, and will need their defense to continue to stand tall against the attack.

What do the Reign need to do?

Nothing has seemed to go to plan for the Reign thus far.  First allocated US internationals midfielder Megan Rapinoe (playing in France), forward Amy Rodriguez (pregnancy), and goalkeeper Hope Solo (wrist surgery) have yet to appear, thoughRapinoe and Solo will be joining the team in the near future.  Adding on injuries to defenders Kate Deines and Elli Reed, as well midfielder Keelin Winters, are not going well in Seattle, leaving the team searching for answers.

After facing the potent offenses of the Washington Spirit and Sky Blue FC, it doesn’t get any easier for the Reign with Portland coming to town.  While the Reign were able to find some offense last week against Sky Blue, doubling their goal total on the season and ending a run of being shut out in three consecutive matches, though they weren’t able to gain muchtraction from their next match. After allowing an early goal, the Reign were able to hold their own before things fell apart in the last 30 minutes, set off by the 62nd minute sending off of defender Jenny Ruiz and culminating with two more goals by Sky Blue.

A result against the Thorns would go a long way towards jump-starting the Reign’s season, but that is not easy with the task at hand.  The Thorns come in with a formidable attack, while the Reign are patching together a defense for this match, losing starters Deines and Reed to injury and Ruiz to suspension.  The blueprint to disrupting the Thorns is there, and that comes by disrupting their midfield distribution, as FC Kansas City and Sky Blue FC did.  If Fishlock as able to frustrate the Thorns and her teammates bring it as well, this should help the Reign in gaining a result against the Thorns, but they will also need to find some offense as well.

Projected Lineups

For the past four matches the Thorns have brought out the exact same lineup, and there is no indication that any changes are imminent for this match.  Expect the same hybrid 4-4-2/4-3-3 that the Thorns have brought out each match this season.

The Reign are a different story.  With most of their backline out of this match, head coach Laura Harvey is forced to make several changes and play some players out of their natural positions.  The Reign will bring in a 4-3-3 that puts a second defensive midfielder in front of the backline while dedicating 3 players up top to the attack.

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Special thanks to Liviu Bird, who covers the Seattle Reign for his assistance in understanding the lineup situation of the Reign.

What to Expect

Portland will look to take control of the game early with a sustained attack and strong midfield distribution, while countering the Reign attack with their solid defensive play.  If the Thorns are able to get back to their form prior to last weekand continue to gel on offense, the Thorns should not have a problem with their Reign, especially if they contain Fishlock, who was the most dangerous player in their first meeting.

For the Reign, they will need to elevate their play to another level.  While they put together what was probably their best match of the season in the first meeting against the Thorns, a lot has not gone their way recently, but they will need to put this out of their minds for 90 minutes.  Disruptive play from Fishlock,Winters, and midfielder Teresa Noyola will go a long waytowards bringing about attacking opportunities, which they will need their forward line to capitalize on.

Keys to the Match

Reign:
– Solid defensive play
– Disrupt the midfield
– Find your offense

Thorns:
– Regain previous form
– Control the midfield
– Contain the Reign attack

Score Prediction

The league’s best offense versus the weakest defense, I think it’s pretty easy to assume what’s going to happen in this match.  Even without the loss of the three defenders for the Reign, it looked to be a long day against the Thorns.  While the Thorns have struggled against teams that put three attackers up top, this doesn’t seem like it will be one of those days, and I expect the Thorns to handily defeat the Reign, 4-0.