Portland Thorns (10-6-5, 35pts) v. Seattle Reign (5-13-3, 18pts)
Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 8:00pm PDT (11:00pm EDT)
Starfire Stadium, Tukwila, Washington
Watch the Match Here!
Twitter – @ThornsFC @SeattleReignFC

The Portland Thorns head north on I-5 to take on the Seattle Reign, in the final meeting between these fierce Cascadia rivals.  The match is scheduled at to kickoff at 8:00pm PDT (11:00pm EDT) at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Washington.

The Thorns and Reign have faced off three times this season, all victories for the Thorns.  In their first meeting on April 21, the Thorns won 2-1 on goals by Alex Morgan and Marian Dougherty, while Jessica Fishlock scored one for the Reign.  In the second meeting on May 25,  Hope Solo made her debut for the Reign, but the Thorns won 1-0 on a controversial penalty shot by Christine Sinclair, that later led to the referee being rebuked by the Professional Referee Organization (PRO).  The third meeting of the season on June 16 saw the Thorns win 2-0, on goals from Mana Shim and Danielle Foxhoven, with Canadian and United States national teamers missing from both sides.

What do the Thorns need to do?

The Thorns come in to this match after a week of well-deserved rest.  After playing five matches in 14 days, the Thorns head to face the Reign while still seeking hosting rights for their first round playoff matchup, which could all be settled by kickoff time, depending on the result of the Western New York-Boston matchup earlier in the day.  A victory for the Flash would send the Thorns on the road for the first round, while a draw or loss would still leave an opportunity for the Thorns to host if they were to overtake the Flash, as well as Sky Blue.

Derby matches bring out the best in teams, and that is exactly what the Thorns will need.  Without star striker Alex Morgan, the Thorns will need others to step up, and with a strike corps of Sinclair, Foxhoven, and Tobin Heath, as well as the ever-opportunistic Shim on the pitch, the Thorns should be able to push through a porous Reign defense that has yet to record a shutout all season, despite being anchored by Solo since late-May.

The Thorns looked listless in their last match against the Flash, but the Flash didn’t look any better.  This resulted in a boring scoreless draw, leaving vital points that the Thorns desperately needed if they wanted to host the semifinals.  Now they will have to put everything on the table in what shouldn’t be a difficult match, but they cannot afford to let that go to their heads.   With a week off, the Thorns should have no excuses for a poor performance against the Reign, regardless of the level of play from their opponent and the loss of Morgan.

Their previous matchups against the Reign have been very physical affairs, with Seattle looking to use everything they can to throw off the Thorns and this nearly worked in their first meeting at Starfire Stadium until a late penalty went Portland’s way.  The Thorns should be well prepared for this tactic this time around and able to counter it by pushing the Reign defense while on the attack.  With everything that is potentially on the line in this match, the Thorns cannot afford otherwise.

What do the Reign need to do?

This match ends what has clearly been a frustrating season for the Reign, beginning with a draw and then a string of several losses up until the introduction of Megan Rapinoe, who appeared to turn their season around for a very successful month of July, only to see their playoff chances slip away as they have lost three consecutive matches.  Now, only playing for pride, the Reign have chance to play a bit of a spoiler for the Thorns while putting on a show for the fans.

The Reign a very much a different side than the one the Thorns have defeated three times this season.  Since their last meeting on June 16, the Reign have added Rapinoe, defender Stephanie Cox, forward Renae Cuellar, and Emily van Egmond, turning the Reign into a very real attacking threat to their opponents, though this hasn’t been the case in their past few matches.

This match itself has no implications either way for the Reign, their fate firmly sealed, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a level of importance for the Reign.  A chance to spoil their Cascadian rival’s hopes of hosting a playoff match should be more than enough to get the Reign pumped up for this match.  The Reign can use this to their advantage by attacking the Thorns and looking to keep them on their heels, therefore breaking up the counterattack and shield their greatest weakness, which is the play of their backline.

Projected Lineups

The injury to Morgan provides a bit of a lineup dilemma for the Thorns.  The tendency for them would be for them to start Foxhoven, Sinclair, and Weimer, the three healthy strikers on their roster, but that would leave them with no one in reserve, the same dilemma they had last match against the Flash.  Instead, they will probably keep one of those players in reserve, likely Weimer, and come out in a 4-4-2 formation.

The Reign have made few changes on the attacking side of their Starting XI, headlined by Fishlock and Rapinoe, while the defensive side have been ever-changing as the Reign look for something that works on the backline, finding mixed results.  Regardless of who starts, the Reign start out in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation.

srfc-por-august-17-2013-lineup

Keys to the Match

Thorns-

  1. Adjust to the narrow pitch
  2. Finish while on the attack
  3. Punish the Reign defense

Reign-

  1. Poke at the Thorns defense
  2. Play scrappily
  3. Keep the ball out of the defensive third

Match Prediction

To say the first few meetings between these sides as scrappy is a bit of an understatement.  While most of this has come from the Reign and the Thorns reacting, it has been an important factor in all their meetings, especially the first match at Starfire.  While the Reign is a much different side from the previous meetings, they have reverted recently since their elimination from playoff contention, while the Thorns appeared to have found themselves, only to see this go away with a series of poor performances and a compressed schedule that now has them appearing to back in to the playoffs.

This match is clearly more important for the Thorns, who still have a chance for playoff hosting with a positive result and some luck. The Thorns will need to play their best, while the Reign will look to play spoiler.  How this will look and which teams show up will obviously play a big factor in the results of the match, but with it meaning more to them, I see the Thorns winning 2-1.